Over the years, we’ve learned what to eat and which numbers to look out for to keep our blood pressure in check. Now we’ll learn more about why your blood vessel function is so important to maintain healthy blood pressure and how the foods you choose can make a big impact.
Robert E. Kowalski, a medical journalist, wrote about five secrets to lower blood pressure in his book, The Blood Pressure Cure: 8 Weeks to Lower Blood Pressure without Prescription Drugs. His advice has stood the scrutiny of research and is as relevant today as it was over a decade ago.
What’s Going On Inside Me?
Heart attacks happen when arteries are unable to get enough blood to the heart and it begins to fail from the lack of oxygen. Artery blockage happens not on the inner walls, but rather within the artery layers.
When you are young, your arteries are elastic and flexible. As you get older, they tend to stiffen and are blocked by plaque deposits that limit blood flow.
The endothelium, the inner layer of the artery, gets little tears throughout our lifetime. Your body does repair itself, and researchers point to one key way our body repairs and keep our arteries flexible.
In the late 1980s, researchers found that the endothelium secreted something that we have now identified as the gas called nitric oxide (NO). The NO secreted helps boost flexibility and elasticity in the arteries.
Further research shows nitric oxide also helps:
- Improve ability of artery dilation
- Prevent accumulation of platelets and clotting
- Regulate oxygenation of cells
- Mediate cellular defense systems
- Limit the production of smooth muscle cells that contribute to arterial plaque
Production of nitric oxide decreases as we age but especially with:
- High LDL levels
- Cigarette usage
- Weight gain
- Development of Type II diabetes (rise of sugar levels in the blood)
The 5 Secrets You Should Tell Everyone
The more nitric oxide your body produces, the healthier your arteries are likely to be.
Secret #1: Arginine
In order to produce nitric oxide, your body needs an amino acid called arginine. The production can be blocked by high levels of asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA). The good news is, supplementing arginine overrides ADMA. By doing so, nitric oxide production may be increased by the endothelium.
Secret #2: Grape Seed Extract
We’ve all heard red wine is good for you. The alcohol appears to raise HDL levels while the red color in red wines is full of polyphenols which may help reduce cardiovascular risk.
In January of 2005, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a supplement “Dietary Polyphenols and Health” showing that grape seed extract has one of the highest concentrations of polyphenols.
Polyphenols of grape seed extract help maintain healthy endothelium and studies by cardiovascular medicine professor C. Tissa Kappagoda of the University of California at Davis suggests so. In his team’s study, patients with metabolic syndrome were given a daily dose of grape seed extract and it lowered their blood pressure and decreased LDL levels in some.
Secret #3: Tomato Extract
Tomato extract is high in the antioxidants polyphenols, lycopene, phytoene, and phytofluene which has been suggested to possibly lower blood pressure.
In the study by Dr. Ester Paran and her colleagues at the University of the Negev at Beer Shiva, Israel, patients diagnosed with higher than normal blood pressure took a single daily dose of a tomato extract product. At the end of the study, their average systolic blood pressure declined by 10 points, and their average diastolic blood pressure declined by 4 points.
Secret #4: Pycnogenol
Pycnogenols acts as a potent antioxidant and stimulates an enzyme that along with arginine helps produce nitric oxide. Arginine and pycnogenol work together to keep blood pressure levels healthy.
Secret #5: Cocoa
Researchers suggest the bioflavonols in cocoa help maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Similar flavonols can be found in fruits, vegetables, red wine, and green tea, but is more concentrated in cocoa.
Italian researcher Dr. Flavio Ferri learned that dark chocolate, rich in flavonols, reduced blood pressure in patients with hypertension during the day and at night. The patients consumed 100g of dark chocolate with 88mg of flavonols per day. Their systolic and diastolic blood pressure lowered, as well as the LDL cholesterol levels.
Kowalski wrote in his book that the researchers found “flavonol-rich cocoa drinks increased vasodilation of arteries, increased NO production, and boosted microcirculation,” which might help us maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
Arteries secrete nitric oxide that helps keep blood pressure down. Taking certain supplements or foods that contain the building blocks of NO can help keep blood pressure at a healthy level.
If you would like to learn more about the secrets to healthy blood pressure, Robert E. Kowalski’s book, The Blood Pressure Cure: 8 Weeks to Lower Blood Pressure without Prescription Drugs is a great resource.
And, as always, talk to your doctor about ways to improve your health.