Diastolic Blood Pressure Reading Just as Important for Predicting Heart Disease Risk
The heart is a muscle that pumps life-giving blood throughout the body, delivering oxygen and important nutrients while removing damaging carbon dioxide and other waste products. When the heart and blood vessels become damaged, this crucial pumping system stops working properly. The host of health problems that ensue are collectively known as cardiovascular disease or heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.
High blood pressure is just one of many risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure is expressed in two numbers: one on top (systolic reading) and one on the bottom (diastolic reading). Previously, the medical world considered the systolic blood pressure reading to be the best indicator of cardiovascular disease risk. However, new research indicates that both systolic and diastolic blood pressure influence the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Types of Heart Disease
Several health problems related to heart and blood vessel disease can be traced to a condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in artery walls, making it harder for the blood to flow through the arteries. If this plaque breaks loose, a blood clot can form and completely block the flow of blood to the heart or brain, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
If blood flow to the heart is blocked, causing a heart attack, the section of the heart that the artery supplies starts to die. When a blood vessel to the brain becomes blocked, the result is an ischemic stroke. This is the most common type of stroke, and it causes a loss in the functioning of that part of the brain. If a blood vessel in the brain bursts, it causes a hemorrhagic stroke. This type of stroke is most often related to high blood pressure.
Congestive heart failure is a type of cardiovascular disease in which the heart doesn't pump blood efficiently. The heart doesn't stop beating, but the body's supply of oxygen and blood is diminished. It left untreated, this condition will worsen. Another problem that can occur with the heart is that it may begin to beat irregularly, or too fast or slow. This condition is called arrhythmia, and it can also adversely affect the body's supply of blood and oxygen.
The valves in the heart also play a role in healthy circulation. A condition called stenosis occurs when the valves don't open wide enough to let the blood flow as it should. When valves don't close properly, blood leaks through causing a condition called regurgitation. If a valve bulges back into the heart's upper chamber, it causes a serious condition called prolapse.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Some risk factors for heart disease can be controlled, while others can't. The risk of developing heart disease goes up with age, and statistics show that men over 45 and women over 55 are at a greater risk. Caucasians are less likely than African Americans to have heart disease. Hispanic Americans are at a lower risk, and East Asians have less of a chance of getting heart disease than South Asians. A family history of heart disease is also a factor, and increases risk.
The risk of heart disease can be controlled by having a healthy lifestyle. High levels of fat in the blood (cholesterol and triglycerides) can clog arteries and lead to a heart attack. These fats in the blood can be managed with diet, exercise and medication if needed. A diet low in sodium, sugar and fats along with exercise lowers fats in the blood and helps control blood pressure. Smoking, excessive alcohol use, stress and inadequate sleep are other risk factors for heart disease that can be controlled. It's important for those who have diabetes to keep the condition under control as it can also lead to cardiovascular problems.
Systolic Versus Diastolic Blood Pressure
Since high blood pressure is a major risk factor, doctors and researchers place much emphasis on controlling it. Everyone, especially older adults and those who have high blood pressure, should have it checked often. Understanding blood pressure readings is also critical. Systolic blood pressure is the upper number in a blood pressure reading. It measures how hard blood is pumped into the arteries. Diastolic pressure, the bottom reading, shows the pressure during the heart's rest in between beats. The American Heart Association considers numbers below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) to be normal. If the systolic reading is consistently greater than 130 mm Hg and the diastolic blood pressure is more than 80 mm Hg blood pressure is considered to be high.
For decades, doctors have usually placed more emphasis on systolic blood pressure considering it to be a major risk. However, results of a new study conducted by Kaiser Permanente run counter to that belief. In the study, which was the largest of its kind, researchers examined more than 36 million blood pressure readings from over a million people. They looked specifically at how both diastolic and systolic blood pressure influenced the occurrence of heart attack and stroke over a period of eight years.
Ultimately, they discovered that while systolic blood pressure is slightly more indicative, both components of blood pressure can predict risk of heart attack and stroke. Lead study author Alexander C. Flint, MD, Ph.D. claims that “Every way you slice the data, the systolic and diastolic pressures are both important.”
Natural Ways to Help Prevent Heart Disease
It has been established that a healthy diet is essential for good heart health. A good diet should include a range of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, folic acid and certain amino acids. A Western diet high in processed foods can leave the body depleted of these necessary nutrients.
Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are necessary for biochemical and enzymatic reactions needed for optimal heart health. Studies show that the amino acids L-arginine, L-proline and L-cysteine, taken in ample amounts, can help improve the health of blood vessel tissue. L-cysteine may also act as an antioxidant to prevent damage from toxins and oxidation.
Grapeseed extract and CoQ10 are other natural supplements that protect the cardiovascular system. Grapeseed extract helps protect against inflammation, supports blood vessel health and may help maintain cholesterol levels already within normal ranges. Several studies found that CoQ10 promotes healthy blood pressure and discourages plaque buildup in blood vessels. Another heart-healthy ingredient that many people in the West have never heard of is nattokinase. Derived from the fermented soybean food natto, this supplement has been used to reduce the risk of blood clots for those who take long airline flights.
Since it's not always easy to get proper levels of these important ingredients in the typical American diet, supplementing with a high-quality product that supports heart health is a wonderful way to gain these benefits.