Hi! I'm a clinical exercise physiologist, cancer exercise trainer, and healthy lifestyle expert. As a TV host/producer and health & fitness contributor for TV, radio, and print, my goal is to help you cultivate healthy habits in a distinctive, fun and artful way.
High blood pressure not only damages the arteries in your heart, but also in your brain. It increases your risk for stroke and memory loss later in life along with many other diseases. Here’s how you can improve your brain, heart, and overall health.
Brain-Blood Pressure Link
Your brain is fed by one of the richest networks of blood vessels in your body. When blood vessels are damaged and circulation to the brain is reduced, it can lead to vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia. (Alzheimer’s is the most common.) You can develop vascular dementia after a stroke when blood flow is blocked and your brain is deprived of oxygen.
Types of Strokes
87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes, that is, the stroke is caused by a clot that blocks blood flow to the brain. A clot or rupture in the blood vessel is usually the cause.
13% of all strokes are hemorrhagic strokes which can be more deadly. These kinds of strokes occur when an artery in the brain ruptures or leaks. High blood pressureis typically the cause of this kind of stroke.
Link to Disease
High blood pressure is often at the root of many diseases as well as conditions, such as inflammation. Chronic systemic inflammation plays a key role in chronic disease and pain, such as:
You set out this year to build new healthy habits. You revised your eating plan, stepped up the exercise, and have been sailing right along. You lost weight! Yay! BUT… today (and last week for that matter) the scale hasn’t budged. It’s not reflecting all your hard work and steady diligence. Your heart sinks. You wonder if all the hard work is worth it.
If this sounds like you, STOP the negative self talk immediately. The devil in your head will cause you to tumble backwards. Remember, the scale doesn’t reflect any changes in your muscle and fat ratios nor do they show the improvements in your heart and brain function, your blood flow, or your arteries — all the things critical to living a long, active and independent life.
If this isn’t your first weight loss rodeo, focus on “changing your body composition” this time around rather than chasing that elusive number on the scale. That is, work on increasing your muscle mass and trimming the fat. If you’re sticking with your new lifestyle, it will pay off over the long term. Have faith in your efforts.
Aim for small incremental changes because those are the ones that are more likely to stick. Just relax and think about how you feel. Do you feel more energetic, lighter, more comfortable, and hopeful? If so, that’s what really counts.
Strokes are afflicting more young Americans — it’s no longer a disease of the elderly and is the leading cause of death worldwide. Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and high blood pressure leads as the cause. Here’s how one particular change in your diet can reduce your risk.
Strokes in Young People
The risk of stroke increases with age, but actor Luke Perry was only 52 when he had a massive stroke and died. When you’re younger (middle-aged) and have a stroke, it is especially dangerous.
Immediately after a stroke, your brain swells (a.k.a. cerebral edema, brain edema, or elevated intracranial pressure). Swelling is your body’s response to many types of injury.
As you grow older, your brain shrinks which is a cause of memory problems and cognitive decline as you age. But when you’re younger and your brain swells after a stroke, there’s no room within your snug-fitting skull for expansion.
As a result, your swelled brain presses up against the inside of your skull. A younger person will experience more intense pressure which can peak three to five days after a stroke.
The pressure constricts blood flow to your brain and deprives it of oxygen while at the same time, it also blocks fluids from leaving your brain, so the brain swelling alone, can cause death.
NOTE: Sometimes the skull will have to be cut open and removed to relieve the pressure (decompressive craniectomy). A scope may also be used to drain cerebrospinal fluid or blood.
Strongest Risk Factors for Stroke
One in 3 U.S. adults has at least one of the following conditions or habits:
High blood pressure
Nitrates and Blood Pressure
Eating foods high in compounds called nitrates is a natural way to treat hypertension and reduce risk of a vascular event, such as a stroke or heart attack. Nitrates are vasodilators that widen (dilate) your blood vessels, and they protect against endothelial dysfunction.
Previous studies showed that drinking beet root juice dilated blood vessels and increased blood flow to the regions of the brain involved in executive functioning. In this study, 70+ year-olds ate a high-nitrate breakfast with 16 oz. of beet juice for four days.
Also, studies have shown that beet roots or beet root juice can reduce your blood pressure by up to 4-10 points over a period of a few hours. Beetroot juice lowered blood pressure 1 hour after drinking it with a peak drop in blood pressure occurring after 3 to 4 hours.
NOTE: If you’re a heart patient, you’re familiar with nitroglycerin and never leave home without it. Nitroglycerin or “nitro” is a heart medicine for angina* and belongs to a group of medicines called nitrates. As a vasodilator, it dilates the blood vessels and increases the supply of blood and oxygen to your heart.
*Angina is a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. Pain can also occur in the jaw, neck, throat, shoulders, arms, or back.
You vowed to eat a heart-healthy diet and have been pretty successful, but every once in a while you can’t resist splurging on a big fat juicy cheeseburger and a thick, creamy milk shake. So is that really all that bad? Find out if an occasional surge of fat in your diet is okay.
The ‘Shake and Cake’ Study
The Heart Research Institute in Australia performed the following “carrot cake and milkshake” test. This well-known research was published in the American College of Cardiology. The subjects were normal weight men and women, age 18 to 40, with no cardiovascular risk factors or established heart disease.
Each participant consumed fat in the form of a slice of carrot cake and a milkshake. They had to eat one gram of fat per kilogram of body weight (i.e., one gram of fat for every 2.2 pounds).
For example, a 200-lb person (91 kg) had to eat 91 grams of fat or the equivalent of eating all of the following at one meal:
Double 1/4 pounder with cheese (45 g total fat) = 700 cal.
Large order of French fries (24 total fat) = 510 cal.
Large vanilla milkshake (22 g total fat) = 800 cal.
DAY 1: The subjects ate the carrot cake and milkshake that were made with SAFFLOWER OIL which is predominantly polyunsaturated fat. Then 3 hours and 6 hours after they ate, the scientists measured their blood flow (endothelial function) and assessed how well their HDL (“good cholesterol”) was protecting their arteries from inflammation.
DAY 2 (one month later): The subjects returned and ate another carrot cake and milkshake meal that contained the same amount of calories and fat except thetype of fat used was different. Instead of polyunsaturated fat, the cake and shake contained COCONUT OIL which is 90% saturated fat. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature.
The Role of HDL (“Good Cholesterol”)
HDL cholesterol is “supposed” to be anti-inflammatory, that is, they suppress inflammatory molecules from multiplying.When arteries become inflamed:
Substances adhere to the artery wall.
Arterial plaques can rupture. A blood clot forms around the rupture blocking the artery, resulting in a possible heart attack.
The Results: Sludge in Your Arteries After Eating Just ONE Fatty Meal
Did you know… that a spoonful of black rice bran contains more powerful antioxidants than a spoonful of blueberries?
The “Forbidden Rice”
In ancient China, black rice was known as “forbidden rice” because only the emperor and members of the royal family were allowed to eat it. Black rice was first introduced to the United States in the 1990’s.
Characteristics of Black Rice
Color: Raw black rice is black or dark brown. When cooked, it becomes a deep purple-burgundy due to the healthful pigments (anthocyanins). The color will transfer to other foods, so if you combine brown rice with black, it’ll turn a purple hue.
Taste: Black rice has a roasted nutty taste. It’s used in Asian desserts as well as for food coloring, noodles, sushi, and pudding.
Storage: Store in the refrigerator and use within 3 months.
Black rice is a whole grain and more nutritious than brown and white rice. It has more fiber, protein, and iron as well as fewer calories and carbohydrates. Here’s how they compare:
1/4 cup uncooked BLACK rice (Organic Black Pearl Rice by Lundberg® Family Farms)
33 grams carbohydrates
5 grams protein
3 grams fiber
1/4 cup uncooked BROWN rice (by Sukoyaka Genmai)
42 grams carbohydrates
3 grams protein
3 grams fiber
1/4 cup uncooked WHITE rice (by Rice Select™)
45 grams carbohydrates
3 grams protein
Not a significant source of dietary fiber or iron.