5 Natural Food Sources to Reduce Blood Pressure

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A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the new blood pressure guidelines. Now, it’s time to dive deeper into 5 food sources that may surprise you as having blood pressure lowering properties.   If an average blood pressure medication lowers systolic (top number) ~5-10 mm Hg,  then enjoying 1 or more of these products daily can have a meaningful impact as many of my patients can attest to.

  1. Beet juice: 1-2 glasses/day of beet juice lowers systolic blood pressure 4-5 mm Hg
  2. Soy Protein: 25 grams daily may also lower systolic blood pressure 4-5 mmHg.
  3. Pistachio nuts: Just 1 handful daily can lower systolic BP ~2 mmHg.
  4. Dark Chocolate: ~2 pieces (10 grams) daily can lower systolic BP 2-4 mm Hg.
  5. Cherry Juice: as little as 2 ounces of Tart Cherry can lower systolic BP 2-4 mm Hg (try it at night as it can also help with insomnia).

Dr. Michael Miller is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  He is also a member of the American Heart Association (AHA) Nutrition Council and his latest book is “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease” – 100% of book proceeds are donated to the AHA.

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A Cardiologist’s Recommendations for Enjoying the Holiday Season

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Life’s short so as a practicing cardiologist I recommend that my patients enjoy the holiday season and all of the decadent treats and trimmings (without going too hog wild). After all, healthy nutrition between New Years and Thanksgiving far outweighs not-so-healthy nutrition between Thanksgiving and New Years.    Here are several tips I recommend so that my patients can have their (holiday) cake and eat it too.

  1. Enjoy 2 spoonfuls of any/every decadent dish served.  After all, we only remember the first and last bites anyway!
  2. Remember the slogan “a little dab’ll do ya” when it comes to condiments, toppings and fillers.  When added to your meal, the brain receives signals that you are not full and as a result you will tend to eat 30-40% more food.
  3.  Walk it off.  After a large meal, as little as a 15-minute walk will improve your blood sugar and blood fat (triglyceride) levels.

 

More tricks of the trade can be found in “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription...”, Amazon’s #1 Rated Book in Heart Disease.  All proceeds are donated to the American Heart Association.

Dr. Michael Miller is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  He is Chair, ATVB Clinical Lipidology Council of the American Heart Association and a member of AHAs Lifestyle Leadership Committee.

No Stroke of Luck: Why New Hypertension Guidelines will Save Hearts & Minds

 

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New hypertension guidelines out this week now define high blood pressure (BP) as a systolic (top number) of at least 130 mm Hg or diastolic (bottom number) of at least 80.  These levels have come down from the “140/90” definition of hypertension established two decades ago.  Prior to that time…when I was a medical student, much less emphasis was placed on systolic BP.  In fact, physicians would simply take your age, tack on the number “100” and determine whether your systolic BP exceeded your age…if not, no worries.  But over the years, we’ve come to realize that living with a BP of 140/90 DOUBLES your risk of stroke or heart attack death and levels of 160 (systolic) or 100 (diastolic) QUADRUPLES risk!  Fortunately, it’s no stroke of luck that lowering systolic BP to 120 mmHg saves hearts and minds!

If you are told that your blood pressure is high at your physician’s office, you should check it at home using a digital monitor.  I suggest finding a quiet room, sit for a few minutes and obtain an initial BP reading. If elevated (as is often the case), discard the first reading and then take the average of a 2nd and 3rd BP reading spaced 3-5 minutes apart. Repeat this process at approximately the same time each night for 1 week to get a reasonably accurate assessment of your BP readings at home.

If your blood pressure is 130/80 or higher at home, I suggest the following to bring it down to a normal level (less than 120/80):

  • Weight loss: 5-10% of body weight loss can lower BP ~5-10 mmHg.
  • Try the DASH diet (aiming for less than 1500 mg of sodium or ¾ of a teaspoon of salt daily). A DASH diet can lower BP ~7-12 mmHg, and may be independent of weight loss.
  • *Increase potassium intake by ~3500 mg daily. The amount of potassium in top food sources is illustrated on page 42 of “Heal Your Heart”). Increasing potassium by ~3500 mg per day can lower BP ~8-12 mmHg.
  • Moderate activity such as brisk walking (3-4 miles/hr) for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week can reduce BP another ~5-10 mmHg.

*discuss further with your doctor if you have kidney problems

Dr. Michael Miller is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  He is also a member of the American Heart Association (AHA) Nutrition Council and his latest book is “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease” – 100% of book proceeds are donated to the AHA.

(S)oy Vey: FDA Moves to Revoke a Health Claim!

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In an unprecedented move, the FDA has moved to revoke the health claim approved in 1999 that eating soy protein protects against heart disease.  This recommendation was largely based on the lack of conclusive evidence that adding soy protein based products (or supplements) reduces risk factors associated with heart disease.

Here’s what we know:

  1.  Adding soy protein to the diet generally has a modest effect on lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol (-3%).  However, when soy protein is substituted for animal-based proteins, LDL lowering is 2-3 times as high (6-10%) and viewed as protective to your heart.
  2. Soy protein can improve vascular health.  We reviewed all of the published studies and found that isoflavone-containing soy products dilates blood vessels and improve function of the inner lining of your blood vessels (endothelium).
  3. Soy products contain powerful antioxidants (isoflavones include daidzein and genistein) and high intake is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular death.

Bottom Line:  Substitution of soy for animal protein (~25 grams per day) is considered to be protective to your heart.  The best sources of soy protein are edamame beans, tempeh, tofu and soy milk (see soyfood protein content chart).

Dr. Michael Miller is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  He is also a member of the American Heart Association (AHA) Nutrition Council and his latest book is “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease” – 100% of book proceeds are donated to the AHA.

My 10 Takeaways from College Tours

The past year has been a whirlwind having visited 16 college campuses across the country with my daughter.   What a far cry from the number of college applications I submitted (3) and number of visits made (0).  In fact the first time I ever set foot on any college campus was the day of my orientation at Rutgers.  Yet after touring colleges with my eldest daughter a decade ago, the process has become considerably more daunting, given the continued skyrocketing costs (up to 90% increases in college tuition this decade alone).  Yet, despite these challenges, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience;  st louis cardinals uscdukeDartmouth College Tour

watching my daughter’s face light up when touring some of these schools was priceless. Some of the highlights (pictured) included catching a Cardinals game during our visit to St. Louis, enjoying a tour at USC, visiting the beautiful Duke campus and experiencing the spring blizzard in Hanover.

Here are my top 10 takeaways from our college tour-

  1. Most beautiful campus: Washington University (St. Louis, MO)
  2. Best on-campus food: Duke (Durham, NC)
  3. Quaintest college town: Dartmouth (Hanover, NH)
  4. Best campus beach: Northwestern (Chicago, IL)
  5. Most impressive library: Yale (New Haven, CN) 
  6. Best off-campus living:  UCLA (Los Angeles, CA)
  7. Most historic campus: UVA (Charlottesville, VA)
  8. Most innovative instruction: Babson (Wellesley, MA)
  9. Most “woke” students: Brown  (Providence, RI)
  10. Most memorable on-campus sculpture (Jumbo the Elephant): Tufts (Boston, MA)

Dr. Michael Miller is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His latest book is “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“ with all proceeds donated to the American Heart Association.

 

 

 

Why Laughter Yoga Can “Heal Your Heart”

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It has been 10 years since my 1st Laughter Yoga Convention in Miami and over this relatively short period,  new research has provided important insights into why laughter yoga can heal your heart.  Earlier this month I had the distinct pleasure of presenting this research and catching up with colleagues (pictured with Alexa Drubay and Madan Kataria, Founder of the Laughter Yoga Movement) for the Annual Laughter Yoga Convention in Zion, Illinois.  So why is Laughter Yoga so good for you?  Let me count the ways….

  1.  Laughter Yoga improves blood pressure.  Practicing laughter yoga can reduce systolic blood pressure as much as 6 mmHg, corresponding to a 5-10% reduction in stroke risk.  In fact, a large Japanese study found that laughing rarely compared to laughing daily was associated with a 60% increased risk of stroke!
  2. Laughter Yoga reduces aging of our blood vessels.  Risk factors such as stress and high blood pressure lead to premature stiffness and aging of our blood vessels; laughter and especially laughter yoga can slow down and may even to some extent reverse this process.
  3. Laughter Yoga is physical activity.  If laughing without any physical activity can burn calories, just think what a 30-40 minute session of laughter yoga can do…100-200 calories!
  4. Laughter Yoga is a social activity that improves high level social connections. High level social connections is one of my proven prescriptions to reduce stressful brain (amygdala) activity associated with inflammation, heart attack and stroke.

So what are you waiting for?  Go out, explore and enjoy Laughter Yoga in your community…your heart will be most grateful!

Dr. Michael Miller is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His latest book is “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“ with all proceeds donated to the American Heart Association.

Why Your Heart Enjoys Ginger

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New research continues to emerge in support of ginger for heart and vascular health. Ginger contains powerful compounds (gingerols, cineole) that reduce inflammation and buildup of cholesterol plaques that promote heart disease. Ginger also improves mood and preliminary studies suggest a potential antidepressant role for geraniol, a compound found in ginger.  Other studies have found that ginger supplementation may reduce cholesterol, triglycerides (blood fats), CRP (a marker of inflammation) and improve blood glucose control in Type 2 diabetics.  Another study in an animal model suggests that ginger may even slow progression of eye-related deterioration that accompanies diabetes.  Benefits have been observed with as little as 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of ground or powdered ginger a day (and represents ~1-2 grams).  And if you love sushi, don’t forget to complete your course with the sweet tasting and cleansing “gari” ginger.   Your heart will enJoy it too!

Dr. Michael Miller is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His latest book is “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“ with 100% of proceeds donated to the American Heart Association.

The Skinny on Coconut Oil: My Guest Appearance on “THE DOCTORS”

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Recently, my colleague Dr. Andrew Freeman and I debated the use of coconut oil on THE DOCTORS show .  As you can see, I take a more moderate stance and list below some facts about coconut oil that can help you decide whether or not to consume.

  1. Coconut oil is a highly saturated fat, with a solid consistency at room temperature compared to unsaturated fats, such as olive and canola oils that are liquid at room temperature.
  2. Saturated fat not only raises the level of LDL (bad cholesterol) but also increases the likelihood that blood clots will form. Together, the risk of a heart attack is increased.
  3. Replacement of saturated fat with unsaturated fat lowers the risk of a heart attack. However, these studies only examined saturated fat from animals and not plants (in other words, coconut-based products were not included).
  4. Even though coconut oil is highly saturated and raises LDL, natives of the tropics have among the lowest rates of heart disease in the world. This likely reflects, low rates of smoking, obesity and stress. Their major protein source is fish while consumption of beef fat and processed foods are rare to non-existent.
  5. Refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point (400-450o) than many less refined vegetable oils (less than 400o). The higher the smoke point, the better, because when oil gets overheated and starts to smoke, toxins such as free radicals are released promoting cell damage that over time can adversely affect our blood vessels, cardiovascular system and overall health.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     So what are my recommendations for using coconut oil? First, I do not recommend coconut oil in my patients with heart disease or with unhealthy levels of the bad cholesterol (LDL above 100 mg/dL).   Keep in mind that a normal or “physiologic” level of LDL is ~50-70 mg/dL (as observed in modern hunter-gatherer societies, tropical islanders, etc).   For cooking, sautéing and baking, refined coconut oil is ok to use in small to moderate amounts at a temperature below the smoke point. A similar recommendation applies for use in raw food where the unprocessed and flavorful form of coconut oil may be preferred.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Dr. Michael Miller is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His latest book is “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“ with 100% of proceeds donated to the American Heart Association.

 

 

Have You Tried Maté?

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I first got turned on to maté, pronounced “mah-tay”, from my friend from Argentina, Ana Goldseker, nutritionist extraordinaire and proprietor of Mindful Nutrition.  This flavorful and caffeine-enriched tea is one of South America’s best kept secrets not only because of its natural mood elevating properties but also because it is an antioxidant powerhouse with heart protective properties designed to reduce cholesterol, improve glucose control and stem inflammation.

If you’ve never had maté, check out Ana’s videos (part 1 and part 2) for simple instructions for preparation.  Drink 1 cup a day at a relatively warm (but not hot) temperature for increased energy and vitality…you’ll be glad you did.

Dr. Michael Miller is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His latest book is “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.   All proceeds are donated to the American Heart Association.

 

Inflammation: The HOTTEST Topic in Heart Disease

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A landmark study led by my friend and colleague, Dr. Paul Ridker, shows for the first time that reducing inflammation not only lowers risk of a future heart attack, stroke or death from heart disease but may also affect the risk of lung cancer.  Effectively fighting inflammation with medication is not new, but medications, like statins not only reduced inflammation but also cholesterol so that the basis for the benefits were unclear. The importance of this groundbreaking study is that the medication purely reduced inflammation without affecting cholesterol (or other factors implicated in heart disease).

In other words, lowering inflammation represents an important new way to improve heart health.  That said, listed below are 6 simple things you can do to keep inflammation at bay, everyday.

  1.  Stretch when you wake up.  I remind my patients that physical stress will cause internal stress that can promote inflammation. Therefore, I recommend spending a few minutes each morning doing simple stretch exercises to remain limber and more relaxed throughout the day.
  2. Enjoy a morning cup of java (or tea).  Believe it or not,  coffee contains powerful chemicals like chlorogenic acid that not only fights inflammation but may also help to combat depression. So enjoy your morning cup of java or tea (that has similar properties).
  3. Keep air and noise pollution levels down.   You may not be able to control air and noise pollution levels outside your home or office but it is important to reduce them as much as you can because pollution can be a major source of inflammation. So, keep the windows up when driving down those noisy and polluted city streets and instead, try listening to….
  4. Listening to your favorite music will reduce inflammation.  In fact, listening to your favorite music not only combats daily stressors but is among the most powerful ways to fight inflammation.  So turn it up… but not too loud, because hearing loss is also linked to heart disease!
  5. Enjoy your greens and berries too! Veggies and fruits and among the best food sources to beat inflammation.  In addition to your favorite green salad, I recommend 1 handful of blueberries, 6 strawberries and of course, the proverbial apple each day.  If available, try bergamot, a fruit rich in anti-inflammatory chemicals.
  6. Check out your favorite comedy.  That’s right, a good, hearty laugh will fight those inner inflammatory demons.  Some of my faves include  “Disjointed” , “Young and Hungry” and “Rules of Engagement“.

Dr. Michael Miller is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His latest book is “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.   All proceeds are donated to the American Heart Association.