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Listen to Dr. Neal address blood pressure and triglycerides in Episode 285 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

As we age, our blood pressure tends to increase. There are a number of reasons for why this happens:

  • We tend to become more sedentary as we get older
  • Our diets aren’t as varied
  • We are often heavier
  • Stress levels may go up

And all of these things increase blood pressure. But let’s say someone is superhuman and does everything right as they get older: they don’t gain any weight, actually increase their exercise, and continue to eat nutritious, balanced meals and so on. Even under these optimal conditions, their blood pressure will likely still go up. This is because, as we age, our arteries (those oh so important blood vessels that carry blood and nutrients to all of our organs) just don’t function as well as they should.

Normally, arteries should be smooth and clean on the inside to allow blood to flow through easily. At the same time, they should be elastic. When blood is rushing through them, this puts a bit of pressure on the inside of the artery, forcing it expand and bulge out. But they are built to handle this–the artery should be able to snap back under this kind of pressure, like a brand new rubber band. As we age, just like an old rubber band, the arteries lose some of that elasticity. The lining becomes damaged and starts to develop plaque which makes it more difficult for blood to flow through them. The heart has to send more blood with more force with each beat. As a result, our blood pressure goes up.

How Do You Know If You Actually Have High Blood Pressure?

The American Heart Association says you have high blood pressure (sometimes called hypertension) when either of the following conditions are met:

  • The “top number” (your systolic blood pressure) is greater than or equal to 140, and/or
  • The “bottom number” (your diastolic blood pressure) is greater than or equal to 90

When you get your blood pressure read at the doctor’s office, the first number they say to you should be less than 140. The second number should be less than 90.

Let's use 138/90 as an example.

The first number, 138, is high, but it’s still less than 140. So far so good. The second number is 90, and if the second number is greater than or equal to 90, then this means that the person has high blood pressure. In this case, it would be diagnosed as hypertension.

Note: I need to mention that when you go to the doctor’s office, the blood pressure reading they give you may be inaccurate. This is because many of us get nervous when we’re at our doctor’s office. When we’re nervous, guess what happens to our blood pressure! It goes up. Or maybe we’re there because we’re sick. That will also probably increase your blood pressure!

It’s always important to try and get an accurate reading. The best time and place to do this would be right after you wake up in the morning, before you get out of bed. Ideally, you would want to get at least 3 more readings on different days.

Let’s assume that this protocol was followed and the blood pressure reading was still high. Besides going on blood pressure lowering medications, what can you do? Here are my suggestions:

How to Lower Your Blood Pressure

Think about changing your exercise routine

Check with your doctor first, but try and incorporate some high intensity interval training. A number of good research shows that this is relatively safe and can dramatically improve heart health and possibly lower blood pressure. I addressed how to go about incorporating HIIT exercise in Episode 250 of Optimal Health Daily. At the very least, mix up your routine. If you normally jog, try sprinting for a bit. If you lift weights, take a shorter rest period between sets.

Think about lowering your sodium, or salt (same thing) intakes

You might be thinking, “Wait! Wasn’t salt + blood pressure just a myth?!” Uh, no. What we’re learning is that some individuals are “salt/sodium sensitive” meaning they do experience an increase in blood pressure when they consume salt. This doesn’t happen to everyone, which is part of the reason why we see conflicting evidence with some of the research findings. How do you know if you’re salt sensitive? You really don’t know unless you and your doctor test you for it specifically, which can be challenging. That’s why we recommend that everyone consider reducing their salt intakes just to be safe.

Increase your consumption of potassium-rich foods

Potassium is amazing in that it can help offset the damage from consuming too much sodium. If you tend to eat a lot of salty foods, it may help to consume those foods that are rich in potassium. If someone has a pre-existing health condition, like kidney disease or a history of heart attack or stroke, you have to be careful here. Too much potassium can be a problem. For most everyone else, consuming potassium rich foods can be very helpful. These foods include:

  • Leafy green vegetables like spinach and broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cantaloupe
  • Bananas
  • Citrus fruits
  • Nuts
  • Salmon

The added benefit is that most of these foods are high in other nutrients, too!

Consider losing weight

Even a small drop in body weight (5-10 lbs.) can be enough to help drop your blood pressure by a few points.

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What Are Triglyceride Levels?

Many of us will experience high blood triglyceride levels at some point in our lives.

Why? Let me first mention what triglycerides actually are.

Whenever you hear a fancy-sounding medical or scientific term like this, see if you can break the word down into its smaller parts.

Tri-glycer-ide

  • tri” as you would suspect, means 3
  • glycer” or “gluc” or “glyc” mean sugar
  • ide” means it’s some sort of chemical compound

So triglyceride means there’s a chemical compound in the blood that is made up of 3 sugars.

Sure enough, if we were to look at the structure of a triglyceride under a microscope, we’d find that it’s basically 3 sugar molecules linked together. When 3 sugars join together to form a compound like this, it actually behaves like a fat. If you’ve ever wondered what the connection is between sugar and fat, there it is: if you eat too much sugar, your body can potentially link up those sugar molecules into sets of 3 and now you basically have a type of fatty acid.

Why do doctors like to look at triglyceride levels in the blood?

It's part of painting a picture of disease risk. It’s one clue about your overall health status.

By looking at your triglyceride levels, doctors are able to see the amount of fat floating around in the bloodstream. Too much fat in the bloodstream may increase a person’s risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

Plus, because we know that triglycerides are made up of 3 sugar molecules linked together, it can also provide clues as to the types of carbohydrates a person’s been consuming. The more simple carbohydrates consumed, the easier it is for the body to connect those sugar molecules together and create triglycerides. Simple carbohydrates would be things like:

  • white pastas
  • sugary cereals
  • refined breads
  • juices
  • sodas
  • candy
  • cookies
  • most baked goods

This is part of the reason why so many health practitioners recommend “complex” carbohydrates like whole grains, vegetables, beans, and lentils.

How to lower your triglyceride levels

If you want to see those triglyceride levels move in a downward direction, the first thing to do is cut down on those simple carbohydrates. We want to make it more challenging for the body to link up 3 sugar molecules together to create triglycerides.

Exercise can also help with this. When we exercise, the body uses sugar as fuel. By exercising, we again make it more difficult for the body to connect 3 sugar molecules because the body’s now using that sugar to fuel our muscles.

There are also things that can influence test results. Either way, it’s important that discuss your lab values with your doctor.

I hope you feel empowered. If this seems like too much, remember that even if you incorporate just one of these tips regularly, it will likely make a difference!

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 285 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

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Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik ("Dr. Neal") is currently a professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Before this, he served as Department Chair at Bastyr University California. Dr. Neal has also published peer-reviewed scientific research and presented at national conferences. Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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