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hypertension

Kidneys are one of our main stystems for removing toxins and waste. Stock photo
High sodium’s impact extends beyond hypertension

By David Dunaief, M.D.

By now, most of us have been hit over the head with the fact that too much salt in our diets is unhealthy. Still, we respond with “I don’t use salt,” “I use very little,” or “I don’t have high blood pressure, so I don’t have to worry.” Unfortunately, these are myths. All of us should be concerned about salt or, more specifically, our sodium intake.

Excessive sodium in the diet does increase the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension); the consequences are stroke or heart disease. Approximately 90 percent of Americans consume too much sodium (1).

Now comes the interesting part. Sodium has a nefarious effect on the kidneys. In the Nurses’ Health Study, approximately 3,200 women were evaluated in terms of kidney function, looking at the estimated glomerular filtration rate (GFR) as related to sodium intake (2). Over 14 years, those with a sodium intake of 2,300 mg had a much greater chance of an at least 30 percent reduction in kidney function, compared to those who consumed 1,700 mg per day.

Why is this study important? Kidneys are one of our main systems for removing toxins and waste. The kidneys are where many initial high blood pressure medications work, including ACE inhibitors, such as lisinopril; ARBs, such as Diovan or Cozaar; and diuretics (water pills). If the kidney loses function, it may be harder to treat high blood pressure. Worse, it could lead to chronic kidney disease and dialysis. Once someone has reached dialysis, most blood pressure medications are not very effective.

Ironically, the current recommended maximum sodium intake is 2,300 mg per day, or one teaspoon, the same level that led to negative effects in the study. However, Americans’ mean intake is twice that level.

If we reduced our consumption by even a modest 20 percent, we could reduce the incidence of heart disease dramatically. Current recommendations from the American Heart Association indicate an upper limit of 2,300 mg per day, with an “ideal” limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day (3).

If the salt shaker is not the problem, what is?

 Most of our sodium comes from processed foods, packaged foods and restaurants. There is nothing wrong with eating out on occasion, but you can’t control how much salt goes into your food. My wife is a great barometer of restaurant salt use. If food from the night before was salty, she complains of not being able to get her rings off.

Do you want to lose 5 to 10 pounds quickly? Decreasing your salt intake will allow you to achieve this goal. Excess sodium causes the body to retain fluids.

One approach is to choose products that have 200 mg or fewer per serving indicated on the label. Foods labeled “low sodium” have fewer than 140 mg of sodium, but foods labeled “reduced sodium” have 25 percent less than the full-sodium version, which doesn’t necessarily mean much. 

Soy sauce has 1,000 mg of sodium per tablespoon, but low-sodium soy sauce still has about 600 mg per tablespoon. Salad dressings and other condiments, where serving sizes are small, add up very quickly. Mustard has 120 mg per teaspoon. Most of us use far more than one teaspoon of mustard. Caveat emptor: Make sure to read labels on all packaged foods very carefully.

Is sea salt better than table salt? 

High amounts of salt are harmful, and the type is not as important. The only difference between them is slight taste and texture variation. I recommend not buying either. In addition to the health issues, salt tends to dampen your taste buds, masking the flavors of food.

If you are working to decrease your sodium intake, become an avid label reader. Sodium hides in all kinds of foods that don’t necessarily taste salty, such as breads, soups, cheeses and salad dressings. I also recommend getting all sauces on the side, so you can control how much — if any — you choose to use.

As you reduce your sodium intake, you might be surprised at how quickly your taste buds adjust. In just a few weeks, foods you previously thought didn’t taste salty will seem overwhelmingly salty, and you will notice new flavors in unsalted foods.

If you have a salt shaker and don’t know what to do with all the excess salt, don’t despair. There are several uses for salt that are actually beneficial. According to the Mayo Clinic, gargling with ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water significantly reduces symptoms of a sore throat from infectious disease, such as mononucleosis, strep throat and the common cold. Having had mono, I can attest that this works.

Remember, if you want to season your food at a meal, you are much better off asking for the pepper than the salt.

References:

(1) cdc.gov. (2) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2010;5:836-843. (3) heart.org.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.    

Blood pressure is typically highest during the day and lowest at night. Stock photo

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

There are currently about 75 million people with high blood pressure in the U.S. Put another way, one in three adults have this disorder. If that isn’t scary enough, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of people dying from complications of hypertension increased by 23 percent from 2000 to 2013 (1).

Speaking of scary, during nighttime sleeping hours, the probability of complications, such as cardiovascular events and mortality, may have their highest incidence.

Unfortunately, as adults, it does not matter what age or what sex you are; we are all at increased risk of complications from high blood pressure, even isolated systolic (top number) blood pressure, which means without having the diastolic (bottom number) elevated as well. Fortunately, hypertension is highly modifiable in terms of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality (2). At least some of the risk factors are probably familiar to you. These include being significantly overweight and obese (BMI >27.5 kg/m²), smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, family history, age, increased sodium, depression, low vitamin D, diabetes and too much alcohol (3).

Of course, antihypertensive (blood pressure) medications treat this disorder. In addition, some nonpharmacological approaches have benefits. These include lifestyle modifications with diet, exercise and potentially supplements.

Risk factors matter, but not equally

In a study, results showed that those with poor diets had 2.19 times increased risk of developing high blood pressure. This was the greatest contributor to developing this disorder (4). Another risk factor with a significant impact was being at least modestly overweight (BMI >27.5 kg/m²) at 1.87 times increased risk. This surprisingly, albeit slightly, trumped cigarette smoking at 1.83 times increased risk. This study was observational and involved 2,763 participants. The moral is that a freewheeling lifestyle can have a detrimental impact on blood pressure and cause at least stage 1 hypertension.

High blood pressure doesn’t discriminate

One of the most feared complications of hypertension is cardiovascular disease. In a study, isolated systolic hypertension was shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and death in both young and middle-aged men and women between 18 and 49 years old, compared to those who had optimal blood pressure (5). The effect was greatest in women, with a 55 percent increased risk in cardiovascular disease and 112 percent increased risk in heart disease death. High blood pressure has complications associated with it, regardless of onset age. Though this study was observational, it was very large and had a 31-year duration.

Nightmares that may be real

Measuring blood pressure in the clinic can be useful. However, in a meta-analysis (involving nine studies from Europe, South America and Asia), results showed that high blood pressure measured at nighttime was potentially a better predictor of myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) and strokes, compared to daytime and clinic readings (6).

For every 10 mmHg rise in nighttime systolic blood pressure, there was a corresponding 25 percent increase in cardiovascular events. This was a large meta-analysis that utilized studies that were at least one year in duration. Does this mean that nighttime readings are superior in predicting risk? Not necessarily, but the results are interesting. The nighttime readings were made using 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure measurements (ABPM).

There is something referred to as masked uncontrolled hypertension (MUCH) that may increase the risk of cardiovascular events in the nighttime. MUCH occurs in those who are well-controlled during clinic readings for blood pressure; however, their nocturnal blood pressure is uncontrolled. In the Spanish Society of Hypertension ABPM Registry, MUCH was most commonly seen during nocturnal hours (7). Thus, the authors suggest that ABPM may be a better way to monitor those who have higher risk factors for MUCH, such as those whose pressure is borderline in the clinic and those who are smokers, obese or have diabetes.

Previously, a study suggested that taking at least one antihypertensive medication at night may be more effective than taking them all in the morning (8). Those who took one or more blood pressure medications at night saw a two-thirds reduction in cardiovascular event risk. Now we can potentially see why. These were patients who had chronic kidney disease (CKD). Generally, 85 to 95 percent of those with CKD have hypertension.

Eat your berries

Diet plays a role in controlling high blood pressure. In a study, blueberry powder (22 grams) in a daily equivalent to one cup of fresh blueberries reduced systolic blood pressure by a respectable 7 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 5 mmHg over 2 months (9).

This is a modest amount of fruit with a significant impact, demonstrating exciting results in a small, preliminary, double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial. Blueberries increase a substance called nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels relax, reducing blood pressure.

In conclusion, nighttime can be scary for high blood pressure and its cardiovascular complications, but lifestyle modifications, such as taking antihypertensive medications at night and making dietary changes, can have a big impact in altering these serious risks.

References:

(1) CDC.gov. (2) Diabetes Care 2011;34 Suppl 2:S308-312. (3) uptodate.com. (4) BMC Fam Pract 2015;16(26). (5) J Am Coll Cardiol 2015;65(4):327-335. (6) J Am Coll Cardiol 2015;65(4):327-335. (7) Eur Heart J 2015;35(46):3304-3312. (8) J Am Soc Nephrol 2011 Dec;22(12):2313-2321. (9) J Acad Nutr Diet 2015;115(3):369-377. (10) JAMA Pediatr online April 27, 2015.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.    

Blood pressure readings taken at night may be the most accurate. Stock photo
A simple technique can help indentify cardiovascular risk

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Hypertension affects approximately one-third of Americans, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and only about half have it controlled (1). What could we possibly learn about blood pressure that we have not heard already? Studies teach us about diagnostic techniques and timing, as well as consequences of hypertension and its treatment. Let’s look at the evidence.

Technique

When you go to the doctor’s office, they usually take your blood pressure first. But do they take readings in both arms and, if so, have you wondered why? I take blood pressure readings in both arms because there may be significant benefit from this.

An analysis of the Framingham Heart Study and Offspring Study showed that when blood pressure was taken in both arms, when there was a difference of more than 10 mm Hg in the systolic (top number) blood pressure, then there may be an increased risk for the development of cardiovascular disease — stroke and heart disease (2).

This is a simple technique that may give an indication of who is at greater cardiovascular disease risk. In fact, when this interarm blood pressure comparison showed a 10 mm Hg difference, it allowed the researchers to identify an almost 40 percent increased risk of having a cardiac event, such as a stroke or a heart attack, with minimal extra effort expended.

So, the next time you go to the doctor’s office, you might ask them to take your blood pressure in both arms to give you and your doctor a potential preliminary indication of increased cardiovascular disease risk.

Timing

When do we get our blood pressure taken? For most of us it is usually at the doctor’s office in the middle of the day. This may not be the most effective reading. Nighttime blood pressure readings may be the most accurate, according to one study (3). This was a meta-analysis (a group of nine observational studies) involving over 13,000 patients. Neither the clinical nor daytime readings correlated significantly with cardiovascular events when multiple confounding variables were taken into account, while every 10 mm Hg increase at night had a more significant predictive value.

With patients, if blood pressure is high in my office, I suggest that patients take their blood pressure at home, both in the morning and at night, and send me readings on a weekly basis. At least one of the readings should be taken before antihypertensive medications are taken, since these will alter the readings.

Salt impact

There has always been a debate about whether salt plays a role in high blood pressure and heart disease. The latest installment is a compelling British study called the Health Survey from England. It implicates sodium as one potential factor exacerbating the risk for high blood pressure and, ultimately, cardiovascular disease (4). The results show that when salt intake was reduced by an average of 15 percent, there was a significant blood pressure reduction and that this reduction may be at least partially responsible for a 40 percent reduction in stroke mortality and a 42 percent reduction in heart disease mortality.

One potential study weakness was that physical activity was not taken into account. However, this study’s strength was that it measured salt intake through 24-hour urine tests. Most of our dietary salt comes from processed foods we least suspect, such as breads, pastas and cheeses.

Age-related macular degeneration

When we think of blood pressure-lowering medications, we don’t usually consider age-related macular degeneration as a potential side effect. However, in the Beaver Dam Eye Study, patients who were taking blood pressure medications were at a significant 72 percent increased overall risk of developing early-stage AMD (5). It did not matter which class of blood pressure-lowering drug the patient was using, all had similar effects: calcium channel blockers, beta blockers, diuretics and angiotensin receptor blockers.

However, the researchers indicated that they could not determine whether the blood pressure or the blood pressure medication was the potential contributing factor. This is a controversial topic. If you are on blood pressure medications and are more than 65 years old, I would recommend that you get yearly eye exams by your ophthalmologist.

Fall risk

One study shows that blood pressure medications significantly increase fall risk in the elderly (6). Overall, 9 percent of these patients on blood pressure medications were seriously injured when they fell. Those who were considered moderate users of these medications had a 40 percent increased risk of fall. But, interestingly, those who were consider high-intensity users had a slightly less robust risk of fall (28 percent) than the moderate users. The researchers used the Medicare database with 5,000 participants as their data source. The average age of the participants in the study was 80.

Does this mean that we should discontinue blood pressure medications in this population? Not necessarily. This should be assessed at an individual level between the patient and the doctor. Also, one weakness of this study was that there was no dose-response curve. In other words, as the dosage increased with high blood pressure medications, one would expect a greater fall risk. However, the opposite was true.

In conclusion, we have some simple, easy-to-implement, takeaways. First, consider monitoring blood pressure in both arms, since a difference can mean an increased risk of cardiovascular events. Reduce your salt intake; it appears that many people may be sensitive to salt, as shown by the British study. If you do take blood pressure medications and are at least 65 years old, take steps to reduce your risk of falling and have annual ophthalmic exams to check for AMD.

References:

(1) CDC.gov/blood pressure. (2) Am J Med. 2014 Mar;127(3):209-215. (3) J Am Soc Hypertens 2014;8:e59. (4) BMJ Open 2014;4:e004549. (5) Ophthalmology online April 30, 2014. (6) JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):588-595.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

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