High blood pressure: Lifestyle changes to reduce reading
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High blood pressure describes what happens when the force of blood pushing against your artery walls is consistently too high. This can cause your arteries to constrict and narrow – a process that can hike your risk of heart disease. Fortunately, dietary interventions have been shown to reverse this process and one in particular will cause chocolate lovers to rejoice.
Plant compounds found in cocoa called flavanols have been shown to reduce high blood pressure.
This is the result of a meta-analysis conducted to determine the effect of flavanol‐rich chocolate or cocoa products on blood pressure in people with or without hypertension.
A meta-analysis is a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies – it helps to identify trends that can bolster scientific claims.
To determine the association between cocoa-rich products and blood pressure, a team of researchers scanned the following electronic databases from inception to November 2011: Cochrane Hypertension Group Specialised Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE and EMBASE.
In addition they searched international trial registries, and the reference lists of review articles and included trials.
They pooled together the findings of randomised controlled trials (RCT) investigating the effects of chocolate or cocoa products on systolic and diastolic blood pressure in adults for a minimum of two weeks duration.
Systolic and diastolic blood pressure are the two main numbers used to record blood pressure.
What did they find out?
Meta‐analyses of 20 studies involving 856 mainly healthy participants revealed a “statistically significant” blood pressure reducing effect of flavanol‐rich cocoa products compared with control in short‐term trials of two to 18 weeks duration.
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“Flavanol‐rich chocolate and cocoa products may have a small but statistically significant effect in lowering blood pressure by 2‐3 mm Hg in the short term,” the researchers wrote.
The two high blood pressure numbers are measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).
Since the effects were only observed in the short-term, “long‐term trials investigating the effect of cocoa products are needed to determine whether or not blood pressure is reduced on a chronic basis by daily ingestion of cocoa,” they concluded.
What you need to consider
Research into the blood pressure-lowering benefits of cocoa may be encouraging, but this is not a licence to scoff the tasty treat.
“The milk chocolate that is popular in the UK is pretty low in cocoa solids and therefore in the antioxidants,” warned Victoria Taylor, a British Heart Foundation dietitian Victoria Taylor.
Antioxidants are compounds produced in your body and found in foods, such as cocoa, that are believed to improve heart disease markers.
“The other thing to remember is that all chocolate – whether white, milk or dark – is high in calories because of its fat and sugar content,” warned Taylor.
“So if you eat too much of it you could put on weight, which obviously is not good for your heart.”
High blood pressure – what to eat
Cut down on the amount of salt in your food and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables to lower high blood pressure.
As the NHS warns, the more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure.
“Aim to eat less than 6g (0.2oz) of salt a day, which is about a teaspoonful,” the health body advises.
“Eating a low-fat diet that includes lots of fibre, such as wholegrain rice, bread and pasta, and plenty of fruit and vegetables also helps lower blood pressure.”
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