01 Dec Is your cycle giving you an important clue about your heart health?
What if you could find out whether you were at a greater risk of developing a serious health condition? Would you want to know so you could do whatever you could to prevent the problem from occurring?
If your answer is “yes”, then you should know about a new study of 3,720 women in the American Journal of Epidemiology that shows women who experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) have a 40% greater risk of developing high blood pressure–and this holds true even after adjusting for factors known to effect BP including body mass index, cigarette smoking, physical activity, alcohol use, oral contraceptive use and family history of hypertension (high blood pressure).
Chances are, you’re already familiar with PMS, which includes a wide variety of symptoms, such as moodiness, palpitations, nausea, forgetfulness, dizziness, hot flashes, insomnia, depression, acne and cramping, that occur in the week or two weeks prior to your period.
But, not enough women are aware of the dangers of high blood pressure, a condition that means the pressure of the blood in your blood vessels is higher than it should be. Dubbed the “silent killer”, it frequently has no symptoms, yet it significantly raises your risk of heart disease and stroke. It can also damage your kidney and increase your risk of blindness and dementia.
So, why would pre-period woes put you at a greater risk of high blood pressure? Some research suggests that women with PMS may have blood vessels that are somehow different than women without PMS, making you more prone to both premenstrual symptoms and blood pressure issues, the study authors say.
If you get PMS, what can you do with this information? Plenty! You can take steps to reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure, make it easy to monitor your numbers and use natural remedies to lower your BP if it’s already elevated. Here’s how:
1. Take B vitamins: This same PMS study found that women who supplemented with the B vitamins thiamine (vitamin B1) and riboflavin (vitamin B2) did not experience this increased risk in high blood pressure. It may be because these vitamins reduce your risk of developing PMS by 25% to 35%, the researchers say.
2. Monitor your numbers: Getting a blood pressure reading at your doctor’s office is helpful since she can explain to you what the numbers mean for your health. However, doctor visits are usually infrequent–and many patients have “white coat syndrome”, which means your BP temporarily spikes while in the examining room. So, I recommend using an at-home blood pressure monitor in addition to having your doctor test you regularly, since it can help give you a more accurate picture of where your BP numbers are. I personally have the Omron 3 Series Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor. It’s easy to use and keeps a history of the past 100 readings, which my doctor found helpful when I brought it to him during my last check-up.
3. Follow a healthy lifestyle: It just so happens that all the things that are good for your general health, such as eating a nutritious diet, lowering salt intake, losing excess weight, exercising regularly, destressing and reducing alcohol and cigarette use, also help bring down elevated blood pressure. The study above found that PMS sufferers still had a higher risk of hypertension despite healthy lifestyle activities, however, if you’re coupling bad health habits with your higher PMS-related risk, you won’t be doing your blood pressure any favors.
4. Tamp down high blood pressure: The moment you see your blood pressure numbers creeping up and your doctor says it’s time to rein them in, and you want to avoid prescription medications if at all possible, ask him or her if you can try natural remedies to get back to your normal range. There are quite a few that have proven blood pressure-lowering effects. These include:
- Eating flax seeds: Consuming two tablespoons of ground flax seeds daily, for instance, sprinkled into your cereal and over salad, can lead to a 15-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 7-point drop in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) within six months, reports the journal Hypertension. How’s it work? The unique mix of compounds in flax seeds—including alpha linoleic acid, lignans and fiber—work together to reduce inflammation, boost artery health and relax arteries, allowing for better blood flow.
- Snacking on yogurt: Eating one daily serving of yogurt containing two or more strains of probiotics (such as Yoplait) or taking a daily multi-strain probiotic supplement (such as American Health Acidophilus and Bifidum Chewables, $5.99, Vitacost.com) can bring down systolic BP nearly six points and diastolic BP nearly three points after eight weeks, according to a review of nine studies from Australia’s Griffith University. Probiotics help reduce glucose and hormone imbalances that lead to higher blood pressure, the researchers say.
- Nibbling blueberries: Women with pre-hypertension and stage 1 hypertension who ate one cup of blueberries daily experienced a reduction of up to 8 points in systolic blood pressure and up to 6 points in diastolic blood pressure within 8 weeks, reports the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Blueberries help the body produce 68.5% more nitric oxide—a compound that relaxes and widens blood vessels, allowing for easier blood flow. Can’t find fresh blueberries in your supermarket? Frozen and freeze-dried varieties work just as well.
[Photo: Penn State]
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