High Blood Pressure: Normal but Not Natural

High Blood Pressure - Normal but Not Natural.jpeg

The most comprehensive and systematic analysis of causes of death ever undertaken allows us to answer questions like, how many lives could we save if people cut back on soda? The answer is 299,521. Soft drinks aren't just bad because they're empty calories. More than just not being a health-promoting item, soda appears to be an actively death-promoting item. Of course, it's not as deadly as processed meats such as bacon, bologna, ham, or hot dogs, which account for about 800,000 deaths every year--killing twice as many women as domestic violence and five times more people than all illegal drugs combined.

On the other hand, eating more whole grains could save 1.7 million lives. And more vegetables could save 1.8 million lives every year. If only we ate more nuts and seeds, we'd save 2 and a half million lives. But fruit is apparently what the world needs most (they didn't look at beans) with 4.9 million lives hanging in the balance every year. The cure is not drugs or vaccines; the cure is fruit. The #1 dietary risk factor for death in the world may be not eating enough fruit.

One reason why plant-based diets can save so many millions is because the #1 killer risk factor in the world is high blood pressure, laying to waste nine million people year after year. In the United States, high blood pressure affects nearly 78 million--that's one in three of us. As we age our pressures get higher and higher, such that by age 60, it strikes more than half of that population. If it affects most of us when we get older, maybe it's less a disease and more just a natural, inevitable consequence of getting older?

No.

We've known for nearly a century that high blood pressure need never occur. Researchers measured the blood pressure of a thousand people in rural Kenya. Up until age 40, the blood pressures of rural Africans were about the same as Europeans and Americans, down around 120's over 80's, but as Westerners age, our pressures creep up such that by age 60 the average person is hypertensive, exceeding 140 over 90. But the pressures of those in rural Africa improved with age; not only did they not develop hypertension, their blood pressures actually got better.

The 140/90 cut-off is arbitrary. Just like studies that show the lower our cholesterol the better--there's really no safe level above about 150--blood pressure studies also support a "lower the better" approach. Even people who start out with blood pressure under 120/80 appear to benefit from blood pressure reduction. The ideal blood pressure, the no-benefit-from-reducing-it-further blood pressure, appears to be 110/70. Is it possible to get blood pressures under 110 over 70? It's not just possible, it can be normal for those eating healthy enough diets (see How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure).

Over two years at a rural Kenyan hospital, 1,800 patients were admitted. How many cases of high blood pressure were found? Zero. Wow. They must have had low rates of heart disease. Actually, they had no rates of heart disease. Not low risk--no risk. Not a single case of arteriosclerosis was found.

Having a "normal" blood pressure may set you up for dying from "normal" causes such as heart attacks and strokes. For more on this concept, see When Low Risk Means High Risk. It's like having a normal cholesterol level (see Optimal Cholesterol Level).

It seems high blood pressure is a choice. Like cavities: Cavities and Coronaries: Our Choice.

Even end-stage malignant hypertension can be reversed with diet (thereby demonstrating it was the diet and not other lifestyle factors that protected traditional plant-based populations). See Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape.

Flax seeds, hibiscus tea, whole grains, and nitrate-rich vegetables may offer additional protection:

Why not just take the drugs? See The Actual Benefit of Diet vs. Drugs and Why Prevention is Worth a Ton of Cure. And be sure to check out my summary video, How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure, as well as The Evidence that Salt Raises Blood Pressure.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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High Blood Pressure: Normal but Not Natural

High Blood Pressure - Normal but Not Natural.jpeg

The most comprehensive and systematic analysis of causes of death ever undertaken allows us to answer questions like, how many lives could we save if people cut back on soda? The answer is 299,521. Soft drinks aren't just bad because they're empty calories. More than just not being a health-promoting item, soda appears to be an actively death-promoting item. Of course, it's not as deadly as processed meats such as bacon, bologna, ham, or hot dogs, which account for about 800,000 deaths every year--killing twice as many women as domestic violence and five times more people than all illegal drugs combined.

On the other hand, eating more whole grains could save 1.7 million lives. And more vegetables could save 1.8 million lives every year. If only we ate more nuts and seeds, we'd save 2 and a half million lives. But fruit is apparently what the world needs most (they didn't look at beans) with 4.9 million lives hanging in the balance every year. The cure is not drugs or vaccines; the cure is fruit. The #1 dietary risk factor for death in the world may be not eating enough fruit.

One reason why plant-based diets can save so many millions is because the #1 killer risk factor in the world is high blood pressure, laying to waste nine million people year after year. In the United States, high blood pressure affects nearly 78 million--that's one in three of us. As we age our pressures get higher and higher, such that by age 60, it strikes more than half of that population. If it affects most of us when we get older, maybe it's less a disease and more just a natural, inevitable consequence of getting older?

No.

We've known for nearly a century that high blood pressure need never occur. Researchers measured the blood pressure of a thousand people in rural Kenya. Up until age 40, the blood pressures of rural Africans were about the same as Europeans and Americans, down around 120's over 80's, but as Westerners age, our pressures creep up such that by age 60 the average person is hypertensive, exceeding 140 over 90. But the pressures of those in rural Africa improved with age; not only did they not develop hypertension, their blood pressures actually got better.

The 140/90 cut-off is arbitrary. Just like studies that show the lower our cholesterol the better--there's really no safe level above about 150--blood pressure studies also support a "lower the better" approach. Even people who start out with blood pressure under 120/80 appear to benefit from blood pressure reduction. The ideal blood pressure, the no-benefit-from-reducing-it-further blood pressure, appears to be 110/70. Is it possible to get blood pressures under 110 over 70? It's not just possible, it can be normal for those eating healthy enough diets (see How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure).

Over two years at a rural Kenyan hospital, 1,800 patients were admitted. How many cases of high blood pressure were found? Zero. Wow. They must have had low rates of heart disease. Actually, they had no rates of heart disease. Not low risk--no risk. Not a single case of arteriosclerosis was found.

Having a "normal" blood pressure may set you up for dying from "normal" causes such as heart attacks and strokes. For more on this concept, see When Low Risk Means High Risk. It's like having a normal cholesterol level (see Optimal Cholesterol Level).

It seems high blood pressure is a choice. Like cavities: Cavities and Coronaries: Our Choice.

Even end-stage malignant hypertension can be reversed with diet (thereby demonstrating it was the diet and not other lifestyle factors that protected traditional plant-based populations). See Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape.

Flax seeds, hibiscus tea, whole grains, and nitrate-rich vegetables may offer additional protection:

Why not just take the drugs? See The Actual Benefit of Diet vs. Drugs and Why Prevention is Worth a Ton of Cure. And be sure to check out my summary video, How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure, as well as The Evidence that Salt Raises Blood Pressure.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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How to Protect Our Telomeres with Diet

NF-Apr21 Telomeres - Cap It All Off with Diet.001.jpeg

In my video, Does Meditation Affect Cellular Aging?, I discussed how stress reduction through meditation might be able to lengthen telomeres, the protective caps at the tips of our chromosomes that tend to deplete as we age.

What about exercise? We can't always change our situation in life, but we can always go out for a walk. London researchers studied 2,400 twins, and those who exercised more may have pumped up their telomeres along with their muscles. Apparently it doesn't take much either. The "heavy" exercise group was only averaging about a half-hour a day.

These were mostly folks in their 40's, but does it still work in your 50's? Yes. A study out of South Korea found that people in their 50's who work out three hours a week had longer telomeres.

In my video, Telomeres: Cap It All Off with Diet, you can see the telomere lengths of young healthy regular folk controls at around age 20, and then at age 50. As we'd expect, the older subjects' telomeres were significantly shorter. What about athletes? The young athletes started out in the same boat, with nice, long, young, healthy telomeres capping all their chromosomes. The older athletes, in contrast to the controls, appeared to still have the chromosomes of 20-year-olds. But these were marathon runners, triathletes running 50 miles a week for 35 years.

What was it about the Ornish intervention that so powerfully protected telomeres after just three months? We saw that stress management seems to help, but what about diet and exercise? Was it the plant-based diet, was it the walking 30 minutes a day, or was it just because of the weight loss? In 2013 a study was published that can help us anser just that question.

The researchers took about 400 women and randomized them into four groups: a portion-controlled diet group, an exercise group, a portion controlled diet and exercise group, and a control group for a full year. In the video, you can see a comparison of the length of each group's telomeres. After a year of doing nothing, there was essentially no change in the control group, which is what we'd expect. The exercise group was 45 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise like jogging. After a year of that, they did no better. What about just weight loss? Nothing. The same thing for exercise and weight loss, no significant change either.

So as long as we're eating the same diet, it doesn't appear to matter how small our portions are, or how much weight we lose, or how hard we exercise. After a year, the subjects saw no benefit. On the other hand, the Ornish group on the plant-based diet, who lost the same amount of weight after just three months and exercised less than half as hard, saw significant telomere protection.

It wasn't the weight loss or the exercise: it was the food.

What aspects of a plant-based diet make it so protective? Studies have associated more vegetables and fruit, and less butter, with longer telomeres. From the latest review, foods high in fiber and vitamins are strongly related to longer telomeres. However, the key may be avoiding saturated fat. Swapping just 1% of saturated fat calories in our diet for anything else can add nearly a whole year of aging's worth of length onto our telomeres.

Saturated fats like palmitic acid, the primary saturated fat in salmon, and found in meat, eggs, and dairy in general, can be toxic to cells. This has been demonstrated in heart cells, bone marrow cells, pancreatic cells, and brain cells. The toxic effects on cell death rates happen right around what you'd see in the blood stream of people who eat a lot of animal products. It may not be the saturated fat itself, however, as saturated fat may just be a marker for the increased oxidative stress and inflammation associated with those foods.

With this link to saturated fat, it's no wonder that lifelong low cholesterol levels have been related to longer telomeres and a smaller proportion of short telomeres--in other words, markers of slower biological aging. In fact, there's a rare congenital birth defect called progeria syndrome, where children age 8-10 times faster than normal. It seems associated with a particular inability to handle animal fats.

The good news is that "despite past accumulated injury leading to shorter telomere lengths, current healthy behaviors might help to decrease a person's risk of some of the potential consequences like heart disease." Eating more fruit and vegetables and less meat, and having more support from friends and family, attenuate the association between shorter telomeres and the ravages of aging.

To summarize: inflammation, oxidation, damage and dysfunction are constantly hacking away at our telomeres. At the same time, our antioxidant defenses, healthy diet, exercise and stress reduction are constantly rebuilding them.


I've asked this diet versus exercise question in a few other contexts. See:

Though dietary change appears more impactful, I'm a big fan of walking. See Longer Life Within Walking Distance and for my personal favorite exercise, Standing Up for Your Health.

For more on the role saturated fat may play in disease, see, for example, my videos Heart Disease Starts in Childhood and Treating Multiple Sclerosis with the Swank MS Diet.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: AJC ajcann.wordpress.com / Flickr

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Trans Fat in Animal Fat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trans Fat in Meat and Dairy

Trans fats are bad. They may increase one’s risks of heart disease, sudden death, diabetes—and perhaps even aggression. Trans fat intake has been associated with overt aggressive behavior, impatience, and irritability.

Trans fats are basically found in only one place in nature: animal fat. The food industry, however, found a way to synthetically create these toxic fats by hardening vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation, which rearranges their atoms to make them behave more like animal fats.

Although most of America’s trans fat intake has traditionally come from processed foods containing partially-hydrogenated oils, a fifth of the trans fats in the American diet used to come from animal products—1.2 grams out of the 5.8 total consumed daily. Now that trans fat labeling has been mandated, however, and places like New York City have banned the use of partially hydrogenated oils, the intake of industrial-produced trans fat is down to about 1.3, so about 50 percent of America’s trans fats come now from animal products.

Which foods naturally have significant amounts of trans fat? According to the official USDA nutrient database, cheese, milk, yogurt, burgers, chicken fat, turkey meat, bologna, and hot dogs contain about 1 to 5 percent trans fats (see the USDA chart in Trans Fat In Meat And Dairy). There are also tiny amounts of trans fats in non-hydrogenated vegetable oils due to steam deodorization or stripping during the refining process.

Is getting a few percent trans fats a problem, though? The most prestigious scientific body in the United States, the National Academies of Science (NAS), concluded that the only safe intake of trans fats is zero. In their report condemning trans fats, they couldn’t even assign a Tolerable Upper Daily Limit of intake because “any incremental increase in trans fatty acid intake increases coronary heart disease risk.” There may also be no safe intake of dietary cholesterol, which underscores the importance of reducing animal product consumption. See my video Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero.

There’s been controversy, though, as to whether the trans fats naturally found in animal products are as bad as the synthetic fats in partially hydrogenated junk food. The latest study supports the notion that trans fat intake, irrespective of source—animal or industrial—increases cardiovascular disease risk, especially, it appears, in women.

“Because trans fats are unavoidable on ordinary, non-vegan diets, getting down to zero percent trans fats would require significant changes in patterns of dietary intake,” reads the NAS report. One of the authors, the Director of Harvard’s Cardiovascular Epidemiology Program, famously explained why—despite this—they didn’t recommend a vegan diet: “We can’t tell people to stop eating all meat and all dairy products,” he said. “Well, we could tell people to become vegetarians,” he added. “If we were truly basing this only on science, we would, but it is a bit extreme.”  

Wouldn’t want scientists basing anything on science now would we?

“Nevertheless,” the report concludes, “it is recommended that trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.”

Even if you eat vegan, though, there’s a loophole in labeling regulations that allows foods with a trans fats content of less than 0.5 grams per serving to be listed as having—you guessed it—zero grams of trans fat. This labeling is misguiding the public by allowing foods to be labeled as ”trans fat free” when they are, in fact, not. So to avoid all trans fats, avoid meat and dairy, refined oils, and anything that says partially hydrogenated in the ingredients list, regardless of what it says on the Nutrition Facts label.

More on trans fat can be found in my videos Blocking the First Step of Heart Disease and Breast Cancer Survival and Trans Fat.

While unrefined oils such as extra virgin olive should not contain trans fats, to boost the absorption of carotenoids in your salad why not add olives themselves or whole food sources of fat such as nuts or seeds? Other videos on oils include:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: PKMousie / Flickr

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Diet and Cellulite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can Cellulite Be Treated With Diet?

Two theories about the build-up of subcutaneous fat, involving the chemical spermine and the hormone adiponectin, suggest a plant-based diet may help with cellulite.

Gynoid lipodystrophy, known colloquially as cellulite, is the orange peel-type or cottage cheese-like dimpling of the skin on the thighs and tushes of the majority of women. Since it basically results from excess fat storage, attention has turned to spermine and spermidine as potential culprits, since a study found that rubbing a spermine-trapping molecule on one’s thighs apparently results in a significant drop in thigh volume, circumference, and cellulite scores.

Spermine was first discovered in human semen back in the 1600s, but only recently quantified in food. The top sources in the American diet were found to be ground meat and lunch meat such as ham, turkey, bologna and salami; green peas, which are also the primary source of spermidine; and cheese such as American and cheddar. So would eating some cheesey peesey meat casserole make cellulite worse? It’s never been tested, but if it did, that could be one of the mechanisms. The reason the food study was funded by the National Cancer Institute is because of a concern that this whole class of compounds may increase cancer risk. For example, polyamine intake was recently associated with increased risk of colorectal polyps.

For more on the adverse health effects associated with the intake of “biogenic amines” (chemical compounds of decay such as spermine and cadaverine) see my videos New Corpse Smell and Carcinogenic Putrescine.

The other cellulite theory has to do with the hormone adiponectin. If you biopsy the fat in the gluteal region of women with and without cellulite, there seems to be less adiponectin expression in the cellulitic butt fat, so maybe adiponectin is protective. How do you keep adiponectin levels from dropping? Don’t eat a sausage and egg breakfast, which a study showed can lead to a drop in levels within hours (compared to a vegetarian meal). Additionally, switching to a vegetarian diet appears to increase adiponectin levels 19 percent.

A meat-free, egg-free diet of vegetables, grains, beans, fruits, and nuts with animal products limited to a maximum of one portion of low fat yogurt a day was compared to the conventional diabetic diet. Though all study participants in both groups were made to eat the same number of calories, the vegetable-heavy group lost more weight, lost more waist, lost more cholesterol, more subQ fat, and more belly fat. The subcutaneous fat is what makes up cellulite, so a plant-based diet could potentially decrease cellulite, but we won’t know for sure until it’s experimentally tested directly. Watch my 3-min video Can Cellulite Be Treated With Diet? to see the graphs.

Ideally, you want to keep your Waist Circumference Less Than Half Your Height. If you’re having trouble with abdominal fat, check out my videos:

More on diet and physical appearance can be found at:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

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