High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the leading modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and premature death worldwide. And key to treating patients with conditions ranging from chest pain to stroke is understanding the intricacies of how the cells around arteries and other blood vessels work to control blood pressure. While the importance of metals like potassium and calcium in this process are known, a new discovery about a critical and underappreciated role of another metal – zinc – offers a potential new pathway for therapies to treat hypertension.
All the body’s functions depend on arteries channeling oxygen-rich blood – energy – to where it’s needed, and smooth muscle cells within these vessels direct how fast or slow the blood gets to each destination. As smooth muscles contract, they narrow the artery and increase the blood pressure, and as the muscle relaxes, the artery expands and blood pressure falls. If the blood pressure is too low the blood flow will not be enough to sustain a person’s body with oxygen and nutrients. If the blood pressure is too high, the blood vessels risk being damaged or even ruptured.
Having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or obesity from childhood through middle age were linked to poorer brain function by middle age.
These cardiovascular risk factors were linked with low memory, learning, visual processing, attention span, and reaction and movement time.
Strategies to prevent heart disease and stroke should begin in childhood to promote better brain health by middle age.
Managing weight, blood pressure and cholesterol in children may help protect brain function in later life, according to new research published today in the American Heart Association’s flagship journal Circulation. This is the first study to highlight that cardiovascular risk factors accumulated from childhood through mid-life may influence poor cognitive performance at midlife.
Previous research has indicated that nearly 1 in 5 people older than 60 have at least mild loss of brain function. Cognitive deficits are known to be linked with cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity and poor diet, as well as depression and low education level.
Many diseases that cause neurological deficits, such as Alzheimer’s, have a long preclinical phase before noticeable symptoms begin, so finding links between childhood obesity and other cardiovascular risk factors is important for cognitive health. The researchers noted that there are currently no cures for major causes of dementia, so it is important to learn how early in life cardiovascular risk factors may affect the brain.
“We can use these results to turn the focus of brain health from old age and midlife to people in younger age groups,” said the study’s first author Juuso O. Hakala, M.D., a Ph.D. student at the Research Centre of Applied and Prevention Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Turku, in Turku, Finland. ”Our results show active monitoring and prevention of heart disease and stroke risk factors, beginning from early childhood, can also matter greatly when it comes to brain health. Children who have adverse cardiovascular risk factors might benefit from early intervention and lifestyle modifications.”
The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study is a national, longitudinal study on cardiovascular risk from childhood to adulthood in Finland. Researchers followed the participants’ cardiovascular risk factor profiles for 31 years from childhood to adulthood. Baseline clinical examinations were conducted in 1980 on approximately 3,600 randomly selected boys and girls, ranging in ages from 3 to 18, all of whom were white. More than 2,000 of the participants, ranging in ages from 34 to 49, underwent a computerized cognitive function test in 2011. The test measured four different cognitive domains: episodic memory and associative learning; short-term working memory; reaction and movement time; and visual processing and sustained attention.
Systolic blood pressure, total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, as well as body mass index, from childhood to midlife are associated with brain function in middle age.
Consistently high systolic blood pressure or high blood total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol were linked to worse memory and learning by midlife when compared with lower measures.
Obesity from childhood to adulthood was associated with lower visual information processing speed and maintaining attention.
Having all three cardiovascular risk factors was linked to poorer memory and associative learning, worse visual processing, decreased attention span, and slower reaction and movement time.
These results are from observational findings, so more studies are needed to learn whether there are specific ages in childhood and/or adolescence when cardiovascular risk factors are particularly important to brain health in adulthood. Study limitations include that a definite cause-and-effect link between cardiovascular risk factors and cognitive performance cannot be determined in this type of population-based study; cognition was measured at a single point in time; and because all study participants are white, the results may not be generalizable to people from other racial or ethnic groups.
Primary care clinics can play an important role in preserving patients’ brain health using the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 as a guide, as well as addressing six other factors associated with cognitive decline, according to a new American Stroke Association/American Heart Association Scientific Statement, “A Primary Care Agenda for Brain Health.
The statement was published in the Association’s journal Stroke. Led by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, it has been endorsed by the American Academy of Neurology as an educational tool for neurologists.
Preserving brain health in an aging population is a growing concern in the United States. An estimated one in five Americans 65 years and older has mild cognitive impairment, and one in seven has dementia. By 2050, the number of Americans with dementia is expected to triple, the statement authors note.
“Primary care is the right home for practice-based efforts to prevent or postpone cognitive decline. Primary care professionals are most likely to identify and monitor risk factors early and throughout the lifespan,” said the chair of the scientific statement writing group, Ronald M. Lazar, Ph.D., the Evelyn F. McKnight Endowed Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging and director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the UAB School of Medicine. “Prevention doesn’t start in older age; it exists along the health care continuum from pediatrics to adulthood. The evidence in this statement demonstrates that early attention to these factors improves later life outcomes.”
A new University of Saskatchewan (USask) study has found that stretching is superior to brisk walking for reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure or who are at risk of developing elevated blood pressure levels.
Walking has long been the prescription of choice for physicians trying to help their patients bring down their blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease and among the top preventable risk factors affecting overall mortality.
This new finding, published December 18, 2020 in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, shows that stretching should be part of a well-rounded treatment plan for people wrestling with hypertension.
“Everyone thinks that stretching is just about stretching your muscles,” said kinesiology professor Dr. Phil Chilibeck (PhD), a co-author of the study. “But when you stretch your muscles, you’re also stretching all the blood vessels that feed into the muscle, including all the arteries. If you reduce the stiffness in your arteries, there’s less resistance to blood flow,” he said, noting that resistance to blood flow increases blood pressure.
Fewer than half of people with high blood pressure have it under control. The problem: When your pressure is too high for too long, it can stretch and damage your arteries.
The resulting health problems can include heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney damage, vision loss, memory loss and cognitive decline. So it’s important not to brush off high blood pressure. Your first line of defense: Try these lifestyle changes as natural ways to lower blood pressure. Try these lifestyle canges as natrual ways to lower blood pressure.
One in three American adults has hypertension (high blood pressure). And, because hypertension causes few obvious symptoms, many people with high blood pressure don’t even know it. What’s more, only about half of all diagnosed individuals are controlling their blood pressure adequately. This condition is a primary or contributing cause in more than 1,000 deaths each day and costs the nation $48.6 billion each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, straightforward lifestyle changes can both prevent and treat this common and devastating “silent killer.”
What is Blood Pressure? “Blood pressure is the force the blood exerts on the walls of the arteries,” says Sondra M. DePalma, DHSc, PA-C, a cardiology PA with PinnacleHealth CardioVascular Institute at UPMC Pinnacle and an author of the American Heart Association’s 2017 Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults. The top number (the systolic pressure) is the force exerted on the artery wall with each beat (contraction) of the heart. The bottom number (the diastolic pressure) is the force when the heart is at rest (between beats). If readings rise above 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, risks begin to rise. Treatment through lifestyle changes and/or medication is recommended if numbers rise over 130 or over 80. [For more information on blood pressure readings, see Blood Pressure by the Numbers.
Consuming a plant-based diet can lower blood pressure even if small amounts of meat and dairy are consumed too, according to new research from the University of Warwick.
Published online by a team from Warwick Medical School in the Journal of Hypertension, they argue that any effort to increase plant-based foods in your diet and limit animal products is likely to benefit your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular disease. They conducted a systematic review of previous research from controlled clinical trials to compare seven plant-based diets, several of which included animal products in small amounts, to a standardised control diet and the impact that these had on individuals’ blood pressure.
Plant-based diets support high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, limiting the consumption of most or all animal products (mainly meat and diary). (See Notes to Editors for further details) Continue reading →
UCLA engineers have designed a thin adhesive film that could upgrade a consumer smartwatch into a powerful health-monitoring system. The system looks for chemical indicators found in sweat to give a real-time snapshot of what’s happening inside the body. A study detailing the technology was published in the journal of Science Advances.
Smartwatches can already help keep track of how far you’ve walked, how much you’ve slept and your heart rate. Newer models even promise to monitor blood pressure. Working with a tethered smartphone or other devices, someone can use a smartwatch to keep track of those health indicators over a long period of time.
A review and analysis published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that eating walnuts could improve blood lipid levels (cholesterol and triglycerides) without causing weight gain or increasing blood pressure.
Feeling blue on Friday the 13th? Perhaps you are triscadecaphobic, which is to say, fearful of Friday the 13th.
The publication Environmental Nutrition offers the following 5 foods that are super nutritious and might bring you good luck at least in terms of your general health.
Amazing avocados, is their first offering. “Ounce for ounce, they contain more blood-pressure lowering potassium than bananas. Avocados are rich in good-for-you monounsaturated fats, and cholesterole-lowering beta-sitosterol and cancer-protective glutathione, along with Vitamin E, folate, vitamin B6 and fiber.”
Brain-boosting blueberries come in second. “These little blue marvels are the antioxidant leaders, plump and nearly 4 grams of fiber per cup and a good dose of vitamin C. They also have cancer-protective ellagic acid, and may boost your brain health and vision.”
Anti-cancer Brazil nuts come in third. “This hearty tree nut is a ‘trigger food’ that may cause cancer cells to self-destruct. It’s a super source of selenium, a promising anti-cancer trace mineral that also promotes DNA repair and boosts immunity. Just two medium nuts contain enough selenium to perhaps reduce the incidence of prostate, colon and lung cancers.”
Good old Broccoli is number four. “Here’s an easy way to get two cancer-blockers that modify natural estrogens into less damaging forms and increase the activity of enzymes that fight carcinogens. Aim for three servings a week of broccoli or its cruciferous cousins.”
Number five is Butternut Squash. “This tasty fruit (yes, fruit) is an exceptional source of beta-carotene, the antiooxidant tyour body converts to vitamin A. But it’s also an overlooked source of bone-building calcium.”
So, look on the bright side and focus on the great nutritional benefits you can derive from these five super foods and forget about the fact that today is Friday the 13th. Just don’t walk under any ladders.
Although I think marathon running, per se, makes too many demands on the body, it appears that marathon training and participating can accomplish some very positive effects. New research led by University College of London (UCL) and Barts Health NHS Trust suggests running a marathon for the first time could have several health benefits.
The study, published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that for first-time marathon runners, training and completion of the marathon resulted in reductions in blood pressure and aortic stiffening in healthy participants that were equivalent to a four-year reduction in vascular age. The greatest benefits were seen in older, slower male marathon runners with higher baseline blood pressure. Continue reading →
I ran across this excellent discussion of senior cycling on RoadBikeRider.com. They have graciously permitted me to reprint it. See permission at end.
RBR Editor’s Note: Coach John Hughes copied me on a recent email exchange he had with Marty Hoganson, an RBR reader with whom he had ridden on tours in years gone by. Marty wondered what, if any, differences there are in terms of recovery, motivation, etc., between 50-somethings and 70-somethings. Both agreed to let me share the exchange with RBR readers. It provides a wealth of solid, useful information.
These days I live and ride in Yuma, Arizona. I am involved in our local bike club called Foothills Bicycle Club, which is primarily made up of retired folks – late-50s to mid-80s. Many strong riders in their 60s and 70s, for their ages — or any age, for that matter.
For the record, I pretty much live in downtown Chicago. I am a city guy and love the fact that I have access to everything a great city has to offer. Within a mile of my apartment, I have dozens of restaurants of every kind, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Public Library for starters. In the evening, there is the Chicago Symphony, the Lyric Opera and tons of smaller, but very professional theater groups. Those are some of the high points of living in a major metropolitan area. Nonetheless, despite this uber-urban environment, my favorite aspects of where I live are Lake Michigan over which I get sunrises every morning, along this lakefront lie a bike path stretching for miles. In addition, there is also the wonderful nature scene along the shore where rabbits, squirrels, ducks, geese and other wild life flourish. I carry nuts and seeds on the bike when I ride so I can feed the sparrows, ducks and squirrels.
I truly believe I have the best of both worlds – an urban environment as well as the beauty of nature – here.
In a lot of ways fiber reminds me of what Mark Twain said about the weather. “Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it.” So, here is an excellent rundown on fiber from the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter.
It is recommended that adults consume between 25 and 30 grams of dietary fiber a day. The average American currently gets about half that amount. According to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, dietary fiber is a “nutrient of public health concern,” meaning this low level of intake could actually be detrimental to our health. So, it’s potentially good news that food manufacturers are adding fiber to processed foods. But is that fiber as good for our health as fiber found naturally in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains?
Health Benefits of Fiber. According to a research review co-authored by Nicola McKeown, PhD, a scientist with Tufts’ Nutritional Epidemiology program and an associate professor at the Friedman School, there is reproducible evidence that dietary fiber found naturally in foods has a role in lowering cholesterol, improving glycemic control, and preventing constipation. And fiber may have more health benefits as well. “Research in this field is continually expanding,” says McKeown. “We’ve only begun to consider things like how the gut microbiota utilize different types of dietary fibers to potentially impact health.” Continue reading →
Significant reductions in the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI)*, and the combination of MCI and dementia**, have been shown for the first time through aggressive lowering of systolic blood pressure in new research results from the federally-funded SPRINT MIND Study reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Chicago.
“This is the first randomized clinical trial to demonstrate a reduction in new cases of MCI alone and the combined risk of MCI plus all-cause dementia,” said Jeff D. Williamson, MD, MHS, Professor of Internal Medicine and Epidemiology and Chief, Section on Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Williamson reported these results at AAIC 2018.
The results of this large-scale, long-term clinical trial provide the strongest evidence to date about reducing risk of MCI and dementia through the treatment of high blood pressure, which is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease worldwide.
“This study shows more conclusively than ever before that there are things you can do — especially regarding cardiovascular disease risk factors — to reduce your risk of MCI and dementia,” said Maria C. Carrillo, PhD, Alzheimer’s Association Chief Science Officer. “To reduce new cases of MCI and dementia globally we must do everything we can — as professionals and individuals — to reduce blood pressure to the levels indicated in this study, which we know is beneficial to cardiovascular risk.”