Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hack Your Own Blood Pressure: Test Yourself First, Eat Garlic, Eat Chocolate, + Sleep…


Blood pressure (BP) is an easy and relevant fitness marker to test yourself for. It's basically biofeedback. You can control it with diet and lifestyle, and it does not inevitably go up with age (that is common mythology).

"High" blood pressure  is mostly viewed as BP that is consistently higher than 120/80, although the powers that be have moved to lower that benchmark even further. Systolic is the top number; diastolic is the bottom one.

I'll show you a number of ways to lower blood pressure, but first I'll discuss my own experience with testing myself, or "health hacking."

There's a common phenomenon called a "white coat reading." You visit the doctor's office, you're a little hyper, and you exhibit a high blood pressure, say 132/85.

The white coat effect may have only been a temporary and fleeting marker. If you were running away from a grizzly bear (bad decision, that), your BP might be sky high for the moment. A better way to find out whether your BP is too high is to test yourself over time with the many available, and reasonabily accurate at-home devices.

How to test yourself

Test your own BP about three to five times per day for up to three days. Track the readings under different circumstances (that's more important than the multi-day part; in the morning, after a meal, in a fasting state, at night, after a nap, after your glass of red wine, etc.).

Just as an example, here's how widely the readings can vary for people. I used two different devices last January, a wrist-held device and a digital monitor worn around the biceps, over about three days.

Readings: 98/68 in the morning during a 14-hour intermittent fast; 122/71!! and 117/67 after two big cups strong coffee! Later in the day, 103/61, 105/66 after tea and nap.

The next day: 114/74–after getting up at 3 a.m. and driving someone to the airport; 104/63–staring at trees (yes, that will lower BP) after nap later in the day; 102/58–staring at the fire in the fireplace later that evening (evolutionary echoes?);

The next day with a better sleep; 106/65 and 107/67. And it goes on and on...those are big variations, such as 122/71 and 103/61, up to 20 percent or more differences.

You get the point; test early and often.

A baseball maven once said, "You can tell someone's a great hitter when they go 100 for 300, not 1 for 3 or 10 for 30."

You need enough data to draw a valid conclusion, to generate a baseline you can work from. If a doctor says "Well partner, your BP is a bit high. Let's talk about that"; you might reply, "Yeah but, I took it 30 times in two weeks under varying circumstances, and it averages about 117/67."

Discussion over. You don't need any BP medication.

So how do you lower it? There are lots of different ways. All of these different methods can have incremental effects that can add up to significant reductions, accomplished only with diet and exercise.

Eat garlic. Garlic has a BP-lowering effect as measured by some studies. It's also a natural anti-viral to boot, so it will help you avoid the flu. I stir fry garlic in cocunut oil or butter; I find it tasty and nutty (it won't do wonders for your breath though–an acceptable trade-off, unless you're hanging out on the Santa Monica pier trying to chat up some Kathleen Turner from-the-1980s lookalike).

Eat high-cacao chocolate; such as 70 to 100 percent cacao. Studies have also shown that high-cacao chocolate has a mild BP-lowering effect, and may improve blood flow.

References: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15755830?ordinalpos=3&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57494718-10391704/flavonol-rich-dark-chocolate-may-help-reduce-blood-pressure/

Drink a glass of red wine once in a while. Another proven remedy that may help. If I were hypertensive, which I'm not, I would have a glass of red wine per night, but not much more (you don't want to have a hangover!).

Sleep and nap more. I measured my BP several times over a week with two different devices. One of the conditions that consistently had a tendency to increase my blood pressure was sleep deprivation, not getting the sleep that I want. Try to get more sleep by going to bed earlier, and make naps the norm rather than the exception. If you're hypertensive, you will notice the improvement.

Reduce salt in the diet, increase your potassium (avocados, lemons, sweet potatoes, an ocasional banana); cut any extra weight you are carrying, particularly if you are very heavy.

Reduce sugar and other inflammatory foods and aim for more of a Paleo approach to diet: good fats and protein; lots of farm eggs, avocados, fatty fish and grass-fed meats, whole milk not skim, etc. Reducing sugar and inflammation will reduce your BP, because your veins and arteries become less inflammatory.

Get some sun; recent studies have shown that sun exposure reduces BP. See The Sunlight Chronicles.

Get moderate cardio and resistance exercise. Lifting weights, for example, can increase BP a bit while you're doing it, but decrease BP over time.

Seize control of your circumstances. Easier said than done, but clearly a toxic lifestyle involving toxic people, such as difficult bosses, will increase your BP. Sometimes it's just the right time to move on from bad jobs and pernicious situations. High BP can be a symptom of imbalances in your life and reflective of adjustments you have to make in your lifestyle. Attaining a sense of control over life's exigencies will ultimately have a BP-lowering effect.

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