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Strike a Pose to Lower Your Blood Pressure

Monday, November 23rd, 2015
Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Kathrine Distel, PharmD Student Cedarville University School of Pharmacy

Hypertension or, as it is more commonly known, high blood pressure, is a chronic disorder that is becoming increasingly prevalent. It can be caused by a number of different factors, including a sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep habits, food choice and smoking. The most common treatment for high blood pressure is medication geared toward lowering blood pressure along with a suggestion to make some lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, those changes—namely diet and exercise—are unappealing at best to most people. Few people want to drastically alter their eating habits and rearrange their schedule so they can go to the gym every other day. Fortunately, there are plenty of other options that are emerging as effective ways to lower blood pressure without endlessly circling a track. One such option, yoga, has been in practice for many years.

Many people balk at the idea of doing yoga because it brings to mind impressive flexibility, leggings, and a room full of yoga mats. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Thanks to the internet, you can pick a yoga instructor who moves at your pace in the privacy of your living room, avoiding all of the unappealing aspects of the exercise. A study1 conducted in India, a country that has been practicing yoga for centuries, found that regular yoga combined with blood pressure medications can produce significant decreases in blood pressure.

Study participants were divided into two groups. The first group, the control, continued to take their blood pressure medications as they had been with no changes besides instructions to avoid smoking, alcohol and any medications that may interfere with the study. The second group, besides the same set of instructions, began practicing yoga with trained yoga therapists three times a week. The sessions were about 45 minutes long and included preparatory practices, static postures, pranayama—exercises that focus on breathing control—and relaxation techniques. Participants were also encouraged to practice what they had learned throughout the rest of the week. 1

The study lasted for 12 weeks and, while the control group had no significant changes from its original measurements, the group practicing yoga showed some interesting results. When compared with both their own original measurements and the end results of the control group, the group practicing yoga had a significant decrease of both components of blood pressure (p < 0.05)—systolic and diastolic pressures— as well as mean arterial pressure (MAP) (p < 0.001). MAP is influenced by several different components, including blood pressure, heart rate, how much blood the heart is pumping every minute, and how much resistance the blood vessels are offering to the heart. When these values are low, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard and risks such as heart attack and stroke are decreased.1

There were two main limitations to this study. The sample size—70 people split evenly between the two groups—was a small one. Additionally, the study only lasted 12 weeks which did not allow it to assess the long-term effects of yoga on high blood pressure. However, other studies2-7 have also found yoga to have positive effects on blood pressure. One systematic review6 of 32 articles found that yoga could lower blood pressure in both healthy and hypertensive patients. Another study5, a year-long study in Hong Kong consisting of 182 participants, found that regular yoga practice could lead to decreased blood pressure, resting heart rate and waist circumference.

When the exercises for these studies were designed, the instructors kept in mind the group they would be teaching. The exercises were geared toward beginners and seniors. One case study, 7 which used resources such as a DVD and a YouTube video, evaluated the effectiveness of a modified chair yoga. This program increased safety for participants with decreased mobility or balance while still effectively lowering blood pressure. Participants also reported decreased anxiety and joint pain.

Results of systematic reviews3,6,8 have been mixed on the effects of yoga. Many, but not all of the trials found positive effects on blood pressure, some of those results were statistically significant while others were not. With so many varying results, there is still more research that needs to be done to determine a true measure of the effect of yoga on blood pressure.It is important to note that, because research into the effects of yoga on blood pressure is still relatively new, this practice has not yet been shown be effective in replacing blood pressure medications. Rather, it works well in conjunction with those medications.

So if your doctor has recommended a lifestyle change to aid in controlling your blood pressure, yoga may be a great place for you to begin. There are many free resources available, ranging from DVDs at the library to videos on YouTube, and it doesn’t require any equipment besides an open floor and perhaps a chair.

What do you think? Will you try yoga to assist in controlling your blood pressure?

 

References:

1. Pushpanathan P, Trakroo M, RP S, Madhavan C. Heart rate variability by poincaré plot analysis in patients of essential hypertension and 12-week yoga therapy. National Journal of Physiology, Pharmacy & Pharmacology. 2015;5(3):174-180.

2. Centre for Reviews aD. Yoga and hypertension: A systematic review (provisional abstract). Altern Ther Health Med. 2014:32-59.

3. Cramer H, Haller H, Lauche R, Steckhan N, Michalsen A, Dobos G. A systematic review and meta-analysis of yoga for hypertension. Am J Hypertens. 2014;27(9):1146-1151.

4. Hagins M, Rundle A, Consedine NS, Khalsa SBS. A randomized controlled trial comparing the effects of yoga with an active control on ambulatory blood pressure in individuals with prehypertension and stage 1 hypertension. J Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2014;16(1):54-62.

5. Siu PM, Yu AP, Benzie IF, Woo J. Effects of 1-year yoga on cardiovascular risk factors in middle-aged and older adults with metabolic syndrome: A randomized trial. Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome. 2015;7(1):1-12.

6. Yang K. A review of yoga programs for four leading risk factors of chronic diseases. Evidence-based Complementary & Alternative Medicine (eCAM). 2007;4(4):487-491.

7. Awdish R, Small B, Cajigas H. Development of a modified yoga program for pulmonary hypertension: A case series. Altern Ther Health Med. 2015;21(2):48-52.

8. Centre for Reviews aD. Yoga for hypertension: A systematic review of randomized clinical trials (provisional abstract). Complement Ther Med. 2014:511-522.

No Gain, No Brain

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

By: Ankit Pandav

Gazpacho_ingredients

When someone mentions to you that they are on a “Mediterranean diet”, what kind of foods come to mind? Many people instantly think a Mediterranean diet consists of gyros, lasagna, pasta, pizza, plenty of meat and a lots of wine. Others simply consider it to be a healthy diet which most people can’t afford. For the most part however, both of these thoughts are incorrect. A Mediterranean diet consists of fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and a moderate amount of wine. What’s more, a study run by Mayo clinic and University of Maryland Medical Center recently discovered that a Mediterranean diet has many health benefits such as protecting against type 2 diabetes, preventing heart disease and strokes, it reduces the risk of developing muscle weakness, and it reduces the risk of developing diseases like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and others.1

Another recent study also shows that the Mediterranean diet may reduce brain shrinkage. A greater amount of shrinkage can be linked to cognitive decline.2 The study author, Yian Gu, states that “It was encouraging to see that the more you adhere to this Mediterranean diet, the more protection you get against brain atrophy [shrinkage].” 3 In his study, there were 674 adults without dementia who averaged close to 80 years of age.  They were split into two groups based on how closely their diets aligned with the Mediterranean diet.3 The researcher then scanned the patients’ brains and measured their brain volume.  “The brains of devotees of the Mediterranean Diet were 13.11 milliliters larger on average than those who did not eat that way.”4 The research study was a cross-sectional study and its method of scanning the brain was high-resolution structural MRI.5

This finding is important, as it appears a Mediterranean diet may help prevent brain related diseases. There continues to be a lack of effective pharmaceutical treatment for common types of dementia. Lifestyle changes seem to be the only treatment that can prevent or postpone the growth of the dementia.6  Although this study and many others like it suggest that following a Mediterranean diet can have a significant positive impact on one’s daily life, whether or not it can definitely prevent dementia is still inconclusive and will require further studies. One of the biggest limitations to this study is that it can’t show whether the diet actually caused less brain shrinkage over time. Another is that the researchers might have brought bias when picking the candidates as they only picked candidates from certain financial classes and race. Also, reliability of the patient’s self-reported testimonies regarding eating the Mediterranean diet is poor. However, it is safe to conclude that a diet, like the Mediterranean, is very beneficial for our health and this research provides us with a new and exciting opportunity to live a healthier lifestyle.7

Based on the evidence above, a modification to our American diet can lead to not just weight loss, healthier hearts, and lower cholesterol, but potentially limit the scope of brain related illnesses. So what are some tips on eating more “Mediterranean”? One way is to incorporate eating more fish rather than meat. Another way is to eat nuts instead of unhealthy snacks. Vegetables and beans are important, and even a moderate amount of wine can be beneficial. As with any healthy diet, it is also important to stay active, whether that means taking a regular light jog or pace walking. Also, a very important factor to remember is to have everything in moderation. Going overboard and having too much food of the Mediterranean diet could potentially have the opposite effect and lead to harmful results. Readers should also always be aware of their allergies since the Mediterranean diet does consist of a high amount of nuts. In the end one of the biggest questions that we should ask is that what kind of impact does the Mediterranean diet have when started earlier in life versus later stages?

References:

  1. The Mediterranean Diet. : Myths, Facts, and Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet 2015.
  2. Eating a Healthy Diet May Reduce Brain Shrinkage. Eating a Healthy Diet May Reduce Brain Shrinkage 2015.
  3. Mediterranean Diet May Keep Your Mind Healthier in Old Age: MedlinePlus. U.S National Library of Medicine 2015.
  4. Shah A. Mediterranean Diet may protect against age-related brain atrophy, dementia, new study shows. Star Tribune 2015.
  5. Gu Y. Mediterranean diet and brain structure in a multiethnic elderly cohort. Mediterranean diet and brain structure in a multiethnic elderly cohort 2015.
  6. Safaris A. Mediterranean Diet and Risk of Dementia. Latest TOC RSS 2015.
  7. Could A Mediterranean Diet Keep Your Brain From Shrinking? NBC News 2015.