Dr Clare Bailey: The hidden killer with a simple remedy

Have you had your blood pressure checked recently? If not you may be in for a shock. Ideally you should have a blood pressure below 120 over 80 (120/80), yet most adults in the UK have readings above that range. And some are way above.

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A blood pressure of 140/90 or more (hypertension) makes you at least twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as someone in the healthy range. And you may not have symptoms until things go wrong – 30 per cent of people are unaware that they have the condition.

Your blood pressure is a measure of the pressure of your blood pumping against your artery walls. With age, arteries become more rigid and your blood pressure increases. Being overweight also has a big impact, which is why it’s important to check you’re the right weight for your height.

Until recently, most people diagnosed with high blood pressure were told that they have to be on medication for life to control it. The good news is that there are changes you can make to your diet that can help you not only to reduce your blood pressure, but also to come off the medication.

Three foods to cut back on

1. Sugar and starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread or white rice, which readily convert into sugar. Not only do these lead to weight gain, but a sugar overload causes insulin levels to rise, forcing excess sugar into fat cells. As part of this process, more fluid is retained, the arteries get stiffer and blood pressure increases. A new study by GP Dr David Unwin showed that by going moderately low carb a group of 154 patients achieved a significant reduction in blood pressure. This was sustained for two years. Interestingly, their blood pressure improved by more than you would expect simply from weight loss, and there was also an improvement in their blood fats.

2. Salt. A lot of processed foods and snacks contain high quantities of salt, as do many breads and cereals. Current advice is to keep to under 6g of salt a day (around 1 tsp). Although in the heat, when you sweat more, and if you exercise you may need a little extra.

3. Alcohol, like sugar, gets stored as fat in the liver and pancreas, which increases the risk of liver inflammation and raising blood pressure. What you eat can have a significant effect on your blood pressure.

Six food to eat more of

1. Beetroot contains nitric acid, which is known to relax your blood vessels and reduce blood pressure.

2. Fibre: from green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils and wholegrains.

3. Full-fat yogurt: five or more servings a week has been shown to reduce the risk of developing hypertension by 20 per cent.

4. Oily fish, which is high in omega 3, or an omega 3 supplement.

5. Olive oil to drizzle on salads and cook with. It is found to reduce blood pressure, partly because of the healthy polyphenols it contains.

6. Berries, instead of high-sugar fruits.

Because food can have a significant effect on blood pressure, if you have a medical condition or are on certain medications, particularly for raised blood pressure or diabetes, consult your health professional. To find out if you have high blood pressure, visit your surgery, pharmacist or use a home blood pressure monitor.

From 9-15 September bloodpressureuk.org will be offering free checks at Pressure Stations across the UK.

A fast track to healthy weight loss

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I have been a fan of intermittent fasting for some years now, so I was interested to read about a study from the University of Alabama that looked at the benefits of a type of intermittent fasting called time-restricted eating (TRE). With TRE you extend your overnight fast with a late breakfast or early evening meal. Previous studies have shown this can help people lose weight, but why?

In this particular study of overweight men and women, they found that putting people on a TRE diet reduced levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, which led to a lower appetite. In The Fast 800 Recipe Book, I encourage people to try TRE and the feedback has been great. I sometimes suggest patients give it a go, to boost weight loss and metabolic health. Many say it makes it easier to do and that they are amazed that they are no longer feeling hungry all the time.

If you have a question you would like answered, email drclarebailey@you.co.uk