Silent Killer

  • Jaspal Bajwa
  • India
  • Dec 02, 2011

Is it possible that nearly half the adult population might be at risk … and not even know about it? In America one in four adults suffers from Hypertension. A similar number flirt with threshold levels. In India, in a short span of 25 years, the incidence in urban centres has grown five fold—from about 10 per cent to over 50 per cent. Age, stress, and food choices contribute to high blood pressure.  Yet, it can go undetected for years; as there are no overt symptoms. No wonder it is called ‘the silent killer’. It kills by contributing to coronary artery disease, and precipitating strokes. 

If we go by the numbers, chronic lifestyle disorders continue to have a vice like grip on the jugular of urban society. This does not have to be so. Living life constantly in high-gear is a choice we make. This invariably leads to living on a constant ‘high’ of stress hormones. The outcomes are familiar.  It starts innocuously enough. A slight overweight rotundity around the waist soon progresses to recurring inflammation and allergies; one thing leads to another—
and before we realise it, high blood pressure has surreptitiously entered our life. And from there on, the slope is slippery. Heart disease, and almost all other chronic disease which compromises our vital organs, follows. 

Fortunately, we can turn the tables on this ‘silent killer’. Hypertension responds very well to changes in lifestyle and diet. However, one must intervene early and upstream—closer to the root cause. The first thing is, regardless of age, to keep a close watch on blood pressure readings. Systolic pressure is the first number in the reading, and is an indicator of blood pressure when the heart contracts. Diastolic pressure reflects pressure when the heart relaxes between beats. Any reading above 140/90 is considered elevated.

We can control hyper-tension by decreasing the intake of sodium, increasing potassium, and by watching our weight. We must remember that just one teaspoon of table salt has as much as 2,300 mg sodium.This is already much too high! Potassium works with sodium to regulate the body’s water balance. Higher the potassium and lower the sodium in our diet, the greater the likelihood that we will maintain normal blood pressure. Many foods like bananas, potatoes, beets, brussels sprouts, yoghurt and raisins are high in Potassium. 

In addition, we must ensure adequate Calcium intake. It should never fall below 1000-1200 mg per day for adults. It is ideally taken together with Magnesium, as that helps relax the arteries and improve blood pressure. Pumpkin seeds, almonds, oats/wheat bran, black beans and spinach are high in Magnesium. Especially good are green leafy vegetables—which are fat-free, rich sources of calcium and magnesium. 

Tip of the week

Keeping active is an important part of the change protocol, to prevent or control high blood pressure. It is important to explore activities that one enjoys. Moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking for 30 minutes a day, can make a huge difference. Blood pressure readings can be reduced by as much as 5-15 points. 

A high-fibre diet has been shown to be effective in preventing many forms of chronic disease. Of the greatest benefit to hypertension are the water soluble gel-forming fibres—such as oat bran, apple pectin, psyllium (sat isabgol), flax seed husk and guar gum. In addition to preventing hypertension, these fibres also help reduce cholesterol levels, detoxify the gut, and promote weight loss.

A ‘package diet’ to consider is the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet, that was the outcome of a landmark study. This approach provides for 2,000 calories per day through whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts—and is rich in fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and low-fat dairy products. It’s also low in saturated fat, sugar, cholesterol and total fat; and higher in potassium, magnesium, and calcium. According to studies, adopting a DASH diet can reduce systolic blood pressure by
8-14 points. 

Nature’s Wonder Foods of the week :

A number of common vegetables and spices have beneficial effects in controlling hypertension.‑

Garlic is a wonder food for the heart. Just one clove of garlic a day has been found to be of benefit against hypertension. Garlic is very versatile, and can be used in cooking, soups, and pickles. For best results, chop or mince, let sit for 5-10 minutes, and then add to the dish at the end of cooking. It can also be taken as a nutritional supplement. Like garlic, onion too has sulphur-containing compounds, which have been shown to lower blood pressure.

Tomatoes are high in gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), a compound that can help bring down blood pressure. Broccoli and Carrots contain several active ingredients that reduce blood pressure.Traditional health practitioners have long used Celery for lowering high blood pressure. A compound found in celery, 3-n-butylphthalide, has been shown to lower blood pressure.

Saffron contains a chemical called crocetin that lowers blood pressure. It can be used in cooking, or it can be added to tea or other beverages. Certain Spices such as fennel, oregano, black pepper, basil and tarragon too have active ingredients that are of benefit against hypertension. 

(For education purposes only; consult a healthcare practitioner for medical conditions.)


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