Guest article by Sam Hadadi,
With soaring stress levels, frazzled social lives and less-than-healthy diets, high blood pressure is an ever-growing problem.
Worryingly, up to 16 million of us in the UK alone suffer with high blood pressure1, which puts us at triple the risk of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke and also affects our chance of developing dementia and kidney disease.
However, if your doctor has raised concern at your blood pressure levels, then a new form of help may soon be at hand – and it may not come in the shape of a pill.
In a small, UK-based study, scientists have discovered that drinking lip-smackingly tart Montmorency Cherry Juice may be just as effective at lowering blood pressure as prescribed drugs. These cherries are lighter in colour than those darker cherries that you often find in stores or markets.
Amazingly, researchers from Newcastle’s Northumbria University discovered that men with early signs of hypertension saw their blood pressure drop by seven per cent in just one day after they sipped the cherry-flavoured concentrate.
This was so impressive that it was enough to slash the risk of a stroke by 38 per cent or heart disease by 23 per cent – a reduction similar to that achieved by anti-hypertensive medication.
Want to know more? Read on…
To test this, researchers tracked 15 men who were suffering from early signs of high blood pressure. The volunteers were asked to sip either 60ml of a Montmorency cherry concentrate diluted with water, or the same amount of a ‘placebo’ drink - a fruit-flavoured squash.
What’s truly amazing is that scientists found that those who drank the cherry concentrate saw their peak blood pressure drop by seven per cent more than those who simply drank the fruit cordial. What’s even more impressive is that this change happened in just three hours, with those suffering from highest blood pressure levels seeing the best results.
So, why the impressive results? Why can cherry juice help to lower our blood pressure levels?
Well, the scientists believe that cherry juice works so well on blood pressure because it is rich in phenolic acids – a natural antioxidant. In fact, when examining the men, the team found that the best improvements came when two phenolic acids - protocatechuic and vanillic acid - reached peak levels in patients’ blood.
Karen Keane, a lead author on the study, said: "The majority of cardiovascular disease is caused by risk factors that can be controlled, treated or modified, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, tobacco use, lack of physical activity and diabetes.
“Raised blood pressure is the leading cause of deaths from cardiovascular disease, yet relatively small reductions in blood pressure can have a large impact on mortality rates.
"The magnitude of the blood pressure lowering effects we observed was comparable to those achieved by a single anti-hypertensive drug and highlights the potential importance that Montmorency cherries could have in the effective management of high blood pressure."
Professor Glyn Howatson, research leader, added that this is just further evidence to suggest that eating the right kind of foods can be the best prevention around for all kinds of diseases and conditions.
He added: "This is the first study to investigate the acute effects of Montmorency tart cherry consumption on blood pressure, arterial stiffness and microvascular vasodilation in males with early hypertension.
“This exciting set of data complements a growing body of research to show that eating the right sorts of foods can provide potential health benefits.
"We believe these benefits might be linked to the combined actions of some of the plant compounds within the Montmorency concentrate and the positive impact they exert on vascular function."
The miracles of cherry juice don’t end there, though! Those clever scientist at Northumbria University have looked into other ways that this super elixir can help to boost our body.
In fact, they’ve also found that Montmorency tart cherry juice is also a handy drink for insomniacs since it can both improve the quality and amount of sleep we’re getting.
Gym bunnies and athletes could also benefit from downing these sweet juice as it has been found to enhance the recovery of muscles after exercise. It can even ease the painful symptoms of gout!
If you’re suffering from blood pressure, then there are plenty of things you can do, as well as downing glasses of cherry juice! As always, chat things through with your GP first but here are some of our top tips you can do at home:
Unfortunately, as our weight creeps up, our blood pressure can often soar up with it. Enjoying a healthy, natural diet, exercising and losing those stubborn few pounds is one of the most effective ways at lowering high blood pressure. In fact, losing just 10lbs is enough to make a difference2!
Cut Down on Salt
While those salty nuts and crisps may seem like a tasty treat, they’re a tricky food to enjoy for anyone with higher blood pressure. Generally, we shouldn’t eat any more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (this equates to 6g of salt), which means cutting out processed foods (which are chock-full of added salt) and easing off on the salt shaker when cooking. However, an even lower sodium intake — 1,500 mg a day or less — is advised for people with an even greater salt sensitivity, including:
As with many things, not all salts are equal and our `Cooking Salt Types: The Lucy Bee Guide explains the differences3.
Smoking isn’t just bad for your lungs – it can also affect blood pressure. Scarily, every cigarette smoked can send your blood pressure sky-high for minutes after you’ve finished lighting up.
Unfortunately, this one isn’t so easy. However, it’s so important if you’re looking to to ease those blood pressure levels. We find that practicing gratitude and making time to relax and do the things we love work wonders for those times when we’re ready to see red! Karl, the Lucy Bee trainer also recommends exercise - he calls this "good stress on your body"
Eat More Beets
Beautiful beets are a rich source of nitrates, which our body uses to make nitric oxide. This is then used by our body to dilate the blood vessels which, in turn, helps to lower blood pressure.
Step Into the Sun
People who enjoy the sunshine and step outside have been found to have lower blood pressure levels than those who avoid the sun. Researchers believe that this is because the sun can increase our production of nitric oxide, which dilates the arteries.
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.