Hypertension – how to get an accurate measurement?

Dear readers: Many of your questions revolved around Hypertension – elevated blood pressure, which is the most common condition seen in primary care and leads to myocardial infarction, stroke, kidney (renal) failure, and death if not detected early and treated appropriately.

Measuring your own is the best way to track itWhether you are checking your blood pressure (BP) at home as advised by your physician or at your physician’s office, it is important to do it right and get an accurate measurement.

Check out this infographic with 7 simple tips to help you get the most precise BP measurement.

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Why it’s okay to have some chocolate

Dear Dr. Mo: I’d like to know if there are any health benefits we can derive from eating chocolate?

chocolateDear reader: Having a sweet tooth myself, I very much understand your concern and in the context of health, I am happy to say – Yes!

I have already written in some detail about health benefits of chocolate so be sure to check it out.

Let me recap it here and add some fresh findings to support it.

Just recently, certain compounds in chocolate, called cocoa flavanols, have been linked with improved cognitive abilities, especially in aging individuals. It appears that regular flavanols consumption can turn a tide on some age-related thinking dysfunctions.

This conclusion comes out of a recent Italian study, published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Continue reading

5 health benefits of Onions – poor breath great health

Dear Dr. Mo: What about onions and health – I avoid them because they give me bad breath but I actually love onions. Should I eat them anyways?

Great combination

Great combination

Dear reader: With their unique combination of flavonoids and sulfur-containing nutrients, the allium vegetables—such as onions—belong in a healthy diet on a regular basis.

The total polyphenol content (polyphenol Quercetin) of onion is higher than its fellow allium vegetables, garlic and leeks and other polyphenol rich plants like tomatoes, carrots, and red bell pepper. Polyphenols are natural antioxidants linked to prevention of cardiovascular diseases (by primarily helping us regulate the cholesterol levels and reducing oxidative stresses).

When onions are simmered in a soup, their Quercetin is not destroyed. It simply leaks out into the water. By simmering at low-heat, you can preserve the health benefits of onion that are associated with Quercetin.

Here are 5 quick health benefits we derive from eating onions on regular basis:

1. Onions are high in vitamin C, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, folate and manganese;

2. They help relieve symptoms such as coughs, congestion, lung tightness in asthma and respiratory infections;

3. Sulfur-containing nutrients in onions have been linked to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels;

4. Onions contain natural anti-clotting agents with fibrinolytic activity and platelet-clumping suppression ability. The anti-clotting effect of onions closely correlates with their sulfur content and this property is again beneficial for preventing complications in cardiovascular diseases for example; Continue reading

Tired legs? Try these 5 dietary tweaks to help your tired legs

Legs could be windows into health - if they're tired, you need a recharge

Legs could be windows into health – if they’re tired, you need a recharge

Dear Dr. Mo: My legs feel tired relatively often and I’d like to know if there is something I can do about it? Should I be worried?

Dear reader: The feeling of tiredness in legs is a relatively common complaint and the reasons for this feeling could be different. If the feeling is more than just tiredness and it extends into pain and cramps, swelling, numbness and other more severe symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately as these could signal a more serious underlying condition.

That said, check out my earlier post on the Tired legs in the morning and the possible causes as well as several things you can do about it.

Use a healthy diet in your favour to get rid of tiredness in your legs and in some instances even pain (but like I said, for pain, always see your doctor first and discuss your options, including your diet).

Include foods that are rich in calcium, fiber, proteins and vitamin E in your diet as well as foods that will clean up your blood vessels  and regulate your blood pressure. These ingredients will maintain your health and specifically improve the strength and fitness of your legs.

What exactly do I mean? Here are 5 important points that you can use in your diet to improve the health of your legs and reduce the feeling of tiredness:

1. Try these 4 foods to keep you blood vessels clean from cholesterol plaques – healthy blood vessels also mean good blood supply to your legs, and well fed legs are fit and recover quickly from walking, running, jumping or just simply standing.

2. For blood pressure regulation try Beets, which can help to regulate mild hypertension (high normal and even stage 1)

3. Eat weekly some Butternut Squash and spinach for a healthy dose of fiber, vitamins A, E, C and B

And fiber is a necessity in any healthy diet, for good digestion and a healthy weight.  Continue reading

Measuring your blood pressure at home – should you do it and how to do it correctly?

Measuring your own is the best way to track it

Measuring your own is the best way to track it

Dear Dr. Mo: How important is regular measuring of blood pressure at home and how to do it correctly?

Dear reader: Taking measurements at home is one of the best ways to keep track of your blood pressure and know its values at different times of day. This is all very useful for your physician to see the ways your treatment is working and whether or not some adjustments need to be made.

If not on meds, you’ll be able to see how your life style influences your blood pressure values – this could also be very useful to your doctor.

There are a few things you can do to make sure your values are as correctly measured as possible. Of course, your monitor needs to be in good condition and properly gaged – there are trusted brands out there you can get so speak to your pharmacist and/or your doctor. I bought OMRON to my parents and it’s working wonderfully.

If the cuff is to large of to small for you hand, order a custom one as cuffs need to fit correctly in order to take proper measures.

Now, with the technical bit out of the way here are 5 basic and golden principles to follow whenever you are measuring your blood pressure at home:

1. Avoid eating heavy food, smoking (anything), or drinking caffeinated beverages for at least 30 minutes before taking a measure

2. Avoid talking while testing and try to remain calm; rest and relax 5 minutes before testing and breathe deeply and slowly

3. Avoid crossing legs if possible; sit comfortably with back supported in a chair and feet on the floor

4. Rest your arm on a table, desk or chair arm so that the arm is at heart level (or as close to this as you can)

5. Last but equally important as this is something all of us tend to do: avoid looking directly into the display while taking a measurement – look away and relax Continue reading

Natural ways to manage mild hypertension – eat Beetroot!

Natural remedy for elevated blood pressure

Natural remedy for elevated blood pressure

Dear Dr. Mo: My blood pressure has recently been slightly elevated. Are there some ways to control it with a healthy diet before I turn to meds?

Dear reader: The so called ‘high normal’ blood pressure (130-139/85-89 mmHg) and even sometimes Stage I hypertension (140-159/90-99 mmHg) can actually be alleviated and managed with mostly life-style changes like salt restriction, proper hydration, quitting smoking, exercise and of course diet adjustments. I am not suggesting you shouldn’t take the meds prescribed by your doctor – do take them by all means as these are usually necessary to act as short-term blood pressure regulators. (In some cases, meds are constantly required). Continue reading

What is healthy eating?

Dear Dr. Mo: How do we really define healthy eating? Where should I begin?

healthy eating means versatility in colours, shapes, sizes and tastes

healthy eating means versatility in colours, shapes, sizes and tastes

Dear reader: Healthy eating could mean different things for different people so when you hear or read that you should eat healthy, there comes a logical question – what does it mean for you?

En générale, healthy eating means choosing the right types and amounts of different food for your age, sex, activity level, health and of course, taste!

I have written extensively about food choices and types so explore my previous posts, some of which are here: Mediterranean diet, Importance of breakfast, Myths about healthy eating, Foods for a lower cholesterol, Eating healthy on the road, Fiber and health, Healthy foods etc.

So how to do it? How to eat healthy? Continue reading

Alcohol – that social lubricant

Dear Dr. Mo: I want to know some basic facts about alcohol and what it does to me when I drink. Is there a safe amount that’s actually good for health?

Don’t drink and drive!

Dear reader: Sometimes you might hear from a doctor that moderate alcohol consumption is good for health.

The peril lies in the word “moderate” for it is arbitrary; it is not the same for everyone and one could easily slip from moderation to amounts that are not at all useful to health. We could certainly argue if alcohol is useful in any amount because while it may be beneficial to one part of the body, it is damaging to another.

We don’t really need alcohol as far as maintaining our health is concerned so if you’ve never drank, don’t start as risks outweigh potential benefits.

Chocolate & health

Dear Dr. Mo: Are there any health benefits I could possibly get by eating chocolate? I just love it so much.

Dear reader: What a sweet question (and I mean literally).
The answer is YES but let me make one clarification right from the start: when we talk about potential health benefits of chocolate, we always refer to dark chocolate, which has a high cocoa content.

Dark chocolate has health benefits

It is the Flavanols in cocoa beans that have antioxidant effects responsible for most of the benefits that come from dark chocolate consumption. Flavanols reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease and also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function. In addition, some research has linked chocolate consumption to reduced risks of diabetes, stroke and heart attack. Eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate was associated with a lower risk of being hospitalized for heart failure.

Flavanols are thought to also reduce the levels of stress hormone Cortisol and its metabolic effects and they are being researched for their sun protecting abilities, doubling the time before which skin turns red in the sun, marking the beginning of a sun burn. Continue reading

Diabetes and weight – what is the link?

Dear Dr. Mo: What is the link between being overweight and developing Type 2 diabetes? Can diabetes be prevented or cured somehow?

Dear reader: First of all it is worth pointing out that diabetes is a chronic condition. For most types (except gestational type) this chronicity means that once it occurs, it stays for life – this is not a disease we can effectively cure with our present knowledge but we can quite successfully manage it.

Before I go into your question, let me first explain the diabetes landscape and basic mechanisms behind it as Type 2 is not the only game in town.

Diabetes occurs either when the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
The danger of diabetes lies in a condition called Hyperglycaemia – raised blood sugar level – which is a common result of uncontrolled/undiagnosed diabetes, which over time causes serious damage to the body, especially to blood vessels and nerves.

Food choices affect our health

Diabetes has its types and these differ in both the ways they start and the ways in which we manage them.

Type 1 Diabetes

This type had previously been known as insulin-dependent, juvenile or childhood-onset diabetes. Here, our pancreas gland becomes deficient in insulin production and there is simply no longer enough of it to properly regulate our blood sugar levels. Management requires daily administration of insulin and this type cannot be prevented with our current understanding as the cause is not known although we do think it is due to the self-inflicting damage to pancreas (process called “auto immune response”). Continue reading

Saunas and health

Dear Dr. Mo: Is sauna really healthy and should I go there when I have a flu?

Dear reader: When you are in most saunas, its dry heat, which can become as high as 85° C (in some saunas, even higher), can have some intense effects on the body.

Your skin temperature spikes to about 40° C within minutes. The average person will pour out a half a liter of sweat during a short stay in a sauna.

Saunas have been around for centuries – its relaxing and well-being effects on the body are well known

The heart rate jumps by 30% or more, allowing the heart to approximately double the amount of blood it pumps out each minute (its minute volume).
Stress hormones ACTH and Cortisol rise substantially while Adrenalin and Noradrenaline are reduced; other changes in hormonal balances happen as well.

These effects (vigorous sweating, increased heart rate and hormonal changes) are similar to those induced by a moderate exercise, which is why saunas could be so appealing.Circulation patterns change while in sauna and most of the extra blood flow is directed to the skin, which becomes reddish; the circulation actually diverts blood away from the internal organs.

Blood pressure in saunas is always unpredictable, rising in some people but falling in others, which might be a health risk for some people with blood pressure problems. Saunas generally should not be considered as a therapeutic approach to hyper or hypotension – visit your doctor first. Continue reading

What is Syndrome X?

Dear Dr. Mo: What is the Syndrome X? I have heard I may be having it – what to do if that’s so?

Dear reader: Syndrome X, more commonly known as the metabolic syndrome and also known as the insulin resistance syndrome is characterized by a clustering of several risk factors for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

This syndrome is among the very common ones in the modern times mostly due to our changed dietary and activity habits and yet, many people have never heard of it and many people (especially people over 50) have it – and, many live their lives without knowing it.

Metabolic syndrome is silent but dangerous

This syndrome presents a serious threat to health.

As I explained, it is a congregation of high-risk factors and if you have this syndrome, you have a much higher risk of a heart attack or stroke as well as of developing diabetes, liver and kidney disease.There’s also evidence that older adults with this syndrome could be more likely to have problems with their memory.

These risk factors most commonly include:

  • Excess intra-abdominal fat (belly fat – the apple shape). This excess is present if a waist size is 101.5 cm (40 inches) or more for men or 90 cm (35 inches) or more for women;
  • Insulin resistance (High fasting blood sugar measure);

And one or more of the following:

  • Elevated triglyceride levels in the blood;
  • Decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL – the “good” fat or good cholesterol)
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)

So, you have a metabolic syndrome (the syndrome X) if you have three or more of the above-listed risk factors.
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Effective strategies for weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo: What are some of the strategies to loose weight in a healthy way? I am not looking for instant results but something long term.

Dear reader: Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight is no easy task these days. We live fast, eat fast and when weight is concerned – most people want to lose it fast, which is not a healthy way to go about it.

A few facts first:

Eat slowly and limit your portions

Our digestive system has several ways in which it talks to the brain to crank our appetite up or down. This conversation is a continuous process and it involves hormones made in the gut and by the cells that store fat, and it also involves nerve signals, especially the vagus nerve, which runs from the digestive system to the brain.

There’s a hormone called Ghrelin, which gets dispatched from the stomach into the blood to go to the brain and flick the hunger switch on – this is how we start to feel hungry. We respond by eating a meal and during this process our stomach and intestine produce hormones called Leptin and Cholesystokinin to tell the brain to start feeling full.

Vagus nerve is also involved as there are stretch receptors in the stomach, which register the stretch as the stomach fills with food and/or liquids. The stretch signals also tell the brain to feel full.

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Are you a fish fan? You should be!

Dear Dr. Mo: I keep reading and listening about how fish oils are good for your health. I’m not really a fish fan but should I reconsider?

Dear reader: What you’ve been hearing and reading about  is correct. Fish contains oils that are rich in polyunsaturated essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are also called a “healthy fat.” People whose diets are rich in omega-3s seem to have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

Now, why is that?

There are several good things that omega-3s do for our bodies.

Like eating fish – great! That’s awesome news for your heart and wits

They help to reduce high blood pressure and high blood pressure is one of the most dangerous things for our overall health.

They guard platelets from forming clots in the blood and clots may lead to heart attacks and strokes.

They help to regulate blood fat levels and keep them within limits by raising HDL also called the “good cholesterol” and lowering triglycerides. This helps to prevent buildup of dangerous plaques on the walls of blood vessels, and plaques may cause angina and lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Another important effect they have is protection against dangerous and even lethal heart-rhythm disorders that can result in cardiac arrest – I’d even say that this may very well be the most important health benefit of Omega-3s. Continue reading