News Roundup: New Blood Pressure Guidelines

In a move that will affect millions of Americans, The American Heart Association released new blood pressure guidelines for the detection, prevention, management, and treatment of high blood pressure. Previously, a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mm Hg or less was considered the norm. According to the new guidelines, normal blood pressure is anything under 120/80 mm Hg. Blood pressure above 130/80 mm Hg is now classified as hypertension. Although this categorization means millions of Americans will now have high blood pressure, it does not necessarily mean there will be a rise in medication usage. The inclusion of a new category, “Elevated Blood Pressure,” allows for people to notice subtle increases in blood pressure beyond the normal range. This will serve as an early signal to make preventative lifestyle changes in order to avoid a future hypertension diagnosis. 

New ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines Lower Definition of Hypertension. American College of Cardiology. “The new guidelines – the first comprehensive set since 2003 – lower the definition of high blood pressure to account for complications that can occur at lower numbers and to allow for earlier intervention. The new definition will result in nearly half of the U.S. adult population (46 percent) having high blood pressure, with the greatest impact expected among younger people.”

Half of US adults have high blood pressure in new guidelines. ABC News. “The change means an additional 14 percent of U.S. adults have the problem, but only an additional 2 percent will need medication right away; the rest should try healthier lifestyles, which get much stronger emphasis in the new advice. Poor diets, lack of exercise and other bad habits cause 90 percent of high blood pressure.”

American Heart Association Announces New Blood Pressure Guidelines. 5 News. ““This particular group of people who had more than 130/80 but less than 140/90, we used to call prehypertensive. Now we've completely scraped off that term,” Cardiologist Dr. Ashu Dhanjal said […] this is important because such a large portion of people in the U.S. were becoming hypertensive. She said people will have to act to make lifestyle modifications like eating a healthy diet and exercising.”

New Blood Pressure Guidelines Mean Yours Might Be Too High Now. NBC News. “Previously, people were not considered to have high blood pressure until the top reading hit 140. “Normal hasn’t changed. We are still saying that it is great and it is normal to have a systolic blood pressure reading below 120 and a diastolic reading under 80,” Whelton said.”

Under New Guidelines, Millions More Americans Will Need to Lower Blood Pressure. The New York Times. “While agreeing that lower blood pressure is better, Dr. J. Michael Gaziano, a preventive cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the VA Boston, worries about having doctors and patients fixating on a particular goal. It’s true, he said, that doctors ought to be more aggressive in treating people at high risk. But, he added, “If a patient comes in with a blood pressure of 180, I will not get him to 130.””

For more information on high blood pressure and the new guidelines visit the American Heart Association’s Understanding Blood Pressure Readings and High Blood Pressure pages.

News Roundup

This week’s news roundup is a collection of health articles focusing on healthy habits that will help us live our lives in a way that promotes thriving and longevity. 

One Simple Way to Make a New Healthy Habit Stick. TIME. “There could be several reasons why habits are easier to form in the mornings…But people’s cortisol levels also tended to be highest in the morning, and the researchers suspect that may be a big part of the explanation. Their findings backed up their theory: Once they adjusted for individual variations in cortisol levels, the gap between the morning and evening groups disappeared.”

How to Age Well. NEW YORK TIMES. “Getting older is inevitable (and certainly better than the alternative). While you can’t control your age, you can slow the decline of aging with smart choices along the way. From the foods you eat and how you exercise to your friendships and retirement goals — it all has an effect on how fast or slow your body ages.”

Is Your Gut Microbiome the Key to Health and Happiness? THE GUARDIAN. “Over the past decade, research has suggested the gut microbiome might potentially be as complex and influential as our genes when it comes to our health and happiness. As well as being implicated in mental health issues, it’s also thought the gut microbiome may influence our athleticism, weight, immune function, inflammation, allergies, metabolism and appetite.”

Pesticides in Produce Linked to Women Not Getting Pregnant with IVF. TIME. “The results only associate a higher measure of pesticides residues with lower IVF success rates; the findings do not establish that pesticide exposure through the diet causes poor reproductive health. But the results suggest that the amount of pesticides women are exposed to may be one factor that could affect whether they are able to get pregnant and carry a baby full term using IVF.”

10 Things to Know About Sleep as the Clocks Go Back. BBC. “People across the [world] will wake up having gained an hour's sleep on Sunday morning, as the clocks go back heralding darker evenings and shorter days. But how much do we know about sleep and its impact on our lives, from our health and mood, to how long we'll live?”

The Connection between Lack of Sleep and Dementia

 

We know that failing to get enough sleep can seriously mess with your head – and that’s not a metaphor. There’s an established link between lack of sleep and memory issues, performance issues, and even the presence of symptoms of depression and anxiety. Now, recent studies have begun adding an additional possible issue that results from sleep deprivation to the list: the development of dementia. 

Dementia is a blanket term for a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory and other thinking skills. Although Alzheimer’s disease comprises roughly 60-80% of the cases, the category includes other types of dementia such as vascular dementia, which can be brought on as a result of a stroke. Regardless of the cause, this cognitive decline can eventually become severe enough to interrupt a person’s ability to perform daily activities.

The (often bad) relationship between dementia and sleep is well documented. People with dementia will frequently experience sleep issues ranging from sleep disturbances to a mood state called “sundowning,” which is a tendency to become restless or agitated in the late afternoon and early evening. Although specific causes are still unclear, one prevailing theory is that sleep disturbances and reduced sleep quality lead to sleepless nights and drowsy days. This can upset one’s internal clock and cause a biological mix-up of day and night, leading to difficulties falling or staying asleep at night and taking long naps during the day.

But lack of sleep doesn’t just plague those who have dementia; recent studies are showing that chronic sleep deprivation may contribute to the development of dementia. One possible reason for this is that during sleep, our brains clear out toxins that accumulate during the day. One such toxin is beta amyloid, which is a protein that can kill brain cells and slow information processing. Beta amyloid is strongly linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Less sleep means an inability to clear out these toxins, and as the toxins add up so too does the risk of developing dementia. A study that followed adults for 12 years and documented their sleep habits and potential dementia development found that those who spent more time in REM sleep at night had a lower risk of developing dementia (and vice versa).

Before you panic, this research is still in its early stages and a true causal link has yet to be established. Researchers have referenced this as a “chicken and egg” scenario – no one is entirely sure if poor sleep causes dementia, if dementia causes poor sleep, or (most likely) some combination of both. However, given the existing research on the benefits of sleep, trying to get more sleep can help more than just your risk of dementia.

Why “Natural” Doesn’t Always Mean “Healthy”

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” – Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II

A line known by lovers everywhere – a rose is a rose by any name. But does the same thing apply to food? Is a food named “natural” the same as a food named “organic” or the same as a food with neither label? What is in a name, anyway? 

Naturally Confusing

We’ve done a previous blog post covering these labels. The “Certified Organic” label is regulated by the FDA; to qualify for “Organic,” a food must be produced without the use of most conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering. The “Natural” label, on the other hand, has no standard definition from the FDA. It is loosely defined as being food that does not contain any added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. The only exception to this is for natural meat, poultry, and egg products. These products must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients; however, there are no standards for farm practices of the animals in question, which can be something worth considering.

How About Healthy?

There are no strict definitions to determine whether a given food is “healthy” or “unhealthy,” the answers are usually dependent on the person asking the question. There are broader definitions wrapped up in this question; however, if the food you’re eating improves your well-being and gives you the nutritional benefits that your body needs, then it’s healthy for you.

But many people, even nutritionally savvy people, can fall victim to a phenomenon known as the “health halo”. People tend to underestimate the number of calories of a given meal if one or more of the components of the meal is labeled with a health buzzword such as “Natural”. This halo effect can affect our choices in what and how much we eat. Believing that one’s meal is healthier can lead people to eat bigger helpings or add less “healthy” things (such as a soda or a dessert) to each meal, which can lead people to consume more calories, artificial sugars, and fat than they otherwise would have.

Natural Disasters?

So how can you hide from the health halo and see if a “natural” food has hidden devil horns? The same way you’d treat any other food – check the nutrition label and ingredients list. Fresh foods will always be best, regardless of label, but checking the labels on “Natural” foods will tell you if there are secret pitfalls that lay in wait behind the label. “Natural” foods may not contain artificial or synthetic substances, but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy if they contain high amounts of fat and/or sugar. 

In that case, that which we call a soda, by any other name is just as sweet.

Back to School

 

Going back to school at the end of summer marks a time of change from play to work - from summer to fall. This change comes with new routines to fit a new schedule. This fall when getting kids back to the books, try a few small, manageable tricks to keep everyone healthy and productive this school year.

 

Food

Eat breakfast. It’s easy to skip breakfast when our mornings start earlier, we press the snooze button too long, and we have an overall hectic start to the day. However, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. In order to have enough energy and focus, we must fuel our bodies and our minds. Try making and packing breakfast the night before or even consider taking something healthy on the go, such as oatmeal with fruit.

Pack healthy lunches. It may be convenient to pack a prepackaged meal in the morning, but eating minimally processed foods is a hallmark of good nutrition. Limit unrecognizable ingredients and added sugars…even juice! Try to pack food in a variety of colors to ensure a good mix of vitamins and a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables. Foods that are white in color tend to be higher on the glycemic index, have less nutrients, and won’t keep you full for long. Try making your own bento box style lunch with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins. 

Activity

Add activity to your day. There are easy ways to incorporate light or fun physical activity into your existing schedule. Getting moving improves focus and will help with adjusting to an earlier bedtime. A few ideas to try include walking to school, walking the dog, doing afternoon yardwork, playing outside (playing catch, shooting hoops, etc.), or even a neighborhood post-dinner bike ride.

Limit screen time. It may be tempting to avoid homework or get away from the demands of the day by watching a few hours of television. However, this habit can take away from productive time spent accomplishing school tasks, doing something outside or with friends, getting prepared for the next day, or even limiting sleep time. Instead, limit the amount of screen time per day to ensure that you get time to catch up on shows, but it doesn’t interfere with other things.

Sleep

Establish a sleep routine. Going back to school in the fall often means shifting your sleep habits to go to bed and wake up earlier. Make this adjustment gradually in the days leading up to the first day of school by going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night. Be sure to establish a constant sleep and wake time and stay on that schedule, even through the weekends and holidays.

Create a homework routine. It’s hard to get back into doing work, but it’s easier if you dedicate a specific time and place to get it done each day. Create a special area free of distraction for homework and try to complete it at the same time every day. Also, by keeping a routine and planning ahead there is less likelihood of late night project finishing.

 

Going back to school is never easy, but these few tips will make the transition smooth and (relatively) painless.