I woke up with a crick in my neck this morning. One of our cats (JOEL’s cat, when she annoys me), Luci, likes to sleep on my pillow at night. Sometimes she arrives there, while I’m unconscious and having concerning stress dreams, and I move into a position that was never intended for human necks to be in. I have a hard time shoeing her away–even if I was conscious to do it–because it’s just so damn cute. She’ll curl right up next to my neck and put her chin on my head, purring all the while. Sometimes as soon as I put my book down and turn off the light, I feel her paws on my shoulder and I know what she’s up to. Suddenly her purr-box is up against my ear and vibrating loudly. Then she’ll give a large sigh and fall asleep. If this happens, I can usually adjust so that it’s not at the expense of my neck. But lately, my whole back and shoulders seem to be sore and stiff, and now the camel’s back, er neck, is broken.
So I’m icing, heating, stretching cautiously and generally being a wuss today. I am no stranger to cricks. I guess that’s the downside to having the ability to fall asleep pretty much anywhere. But that doesn’t make them any less painful either. I do have one trick up my sleeve: turmeric and lemon. Both have anti-inflammatory properties, aid in digestion, detox your system, and have a host of other benefits we are only just beginning to understand. They also have serious benefits to your heart, especially high blood pressure.
When I was told that I have high blood pressure–that I could be borderline hypertension–two years ago, I started to make some changes. My levels in 2013 were around 134/98, and some days as high as 144/93. The scary thing is, when I told my family that, they had no idea that was outside the normal range, nor that there was such a thing as “pre-hypertension.” I sent them some articles, and I did a lot more research about food. This time I was reading about food not just for the sake of flavor, but for the sake of my health, because being told I have borderline high blood pressure scared the sh*t out of me. Your blood pressure changes throughout the course of a day. It can have highs, lows, or be somewhere in the middle. When it is consistently high, the pressure of blood pumping through your artery walls can actually cause damage, not just to your heart, but all over your body. The problem is, many people can’t tell or even know that they have high blood pressure. This is why it is known as the “silent killer.”
Here’s a staggering statistic: 1 in every 4 adults in America has high blood pressure… and probably doesn’t even know it. Untreated hypertension increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. These are the first and third commonest causes of death in the USA. Hypertension can also damage the kidneys and increase the risk of blindness and dementia. (Medicine.net) I did not want to be one of those 50 million with high blood pressure.
Another, more recent, motivator for me is the risks of having high blood pressure while pregnant. I want to have a family some day (sooner rather then later, hopefully), and I want my body to be ready for it. Having high blood pressure can lead to serious complications for the baby, as well as the mother, and can lead to conditions such as preeclampsia, premature delivery, and decreased blood flow to the placenta (Mayoclinic.org).
If you are concerned, try measuring your blood pressure at home with a home blood pressure monitor. If it reads high for a few readings in a row, over the course of a few days, you might want to make an appointment with your doctor to get a professionals opinion. *Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, all statements are my opinion and related to my own personal experience.*
My blood pressure journey over the last two years has had its ups and downs (see what I did there?) and a couple of factors have contributed to that.
Alcohol consumption. I notice a significant increase in my blood pressure when I consistently drink alcohol. I’m not a binge drinker, but I was certainly partaking in more then the recommended daily amount for women. (See this article for more information on how alcohol affects your BP.) For this reason–and the whole wanting to have kids soon anyway–my alcohol consumption has dramatically decreased since October of this year. I’ve noticed significant improvements to my focus, quality of sleep, water retention and I’ve even lost weight. I still have a drink now and then, or even a weekend lunch with cocktails, but they are more mindfully consumed and with longer periods of abstaining in between. Alcohol is difficult to reduce during this time of the year, but try bringing a mocktail, low-alcohol cocktail, or an interesting non-alcohol drink, such as homemade kombucha, to your next holiday party.
Sodium levels, processed foods, and diet. Here’s the kicker: you can’t really talk about blood pressure with out someone bringing up sodium intake. Yes, sodium is a major player in blood pressure levels, and if you are eating a lot of prepackaged, ready-made foods, you need to watch it–very carefully. I was not eating these foods, for the most the part. Aside from going out to eat, which we are doing far less frequently then the average American, we cook a lot of food from scratch.
But there were still areas I could improve upon. Snacks, such as chips, pretzels, popcorn and crackers, are my kryptonite. Combine that with a few beers on a Friday night, and you have a recipe for a BP spike! I do have a couple snack and seasoning tricks up my sleeve, that don’t involve salt. I’ll save that for another post. Another shocker was how much sodium was in our (almost twice a month) Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza. The other thing to remember about eating out, or take out, you eat far more then a single serving (because a single serving would never satisfy a normal appetite, and because….LEFTOVERS!) So one piece was supposed to be 1/12 of the pizza (family size) or 1/8 (large and medium size). We were cutting a family size into 8 pieces, and having 2 pieces each. A 1/12 of the Chicken Garlic, a past favorite of ours, has 687 mg of sodium for 1 slice. Some Papa Murphy’s menu options shoot up to 992 mg per slice (All Meat.) See for yourself. It’s horrifying when you do the math.The recommended daily amount is closer to 2,300 mg per day, but most Americans consume closer to 3,400 mg per day. So in our pizza example, take that 2,300 mg and divide it by 3 (or 5-6 if you do smaller meals throughout the day) and you have your average sodium intake per meal, per day. Mine came out to about 767 mg of sodium per meal. But by my calculations, I was actually consuming 1,030.5 mg per slice, and 2,061 mg per pizza meal. (687*12=8,244 for a whole Chicken Garlic pizza, then divide by 8, what our servings size was, and multiply by 2, what we would eat for dinner.)
So even though I don’t over salt my food at home, I don’t use pre-packaged sauces, don’t eat canned soup, make my own chicken broth with no salt… I was still over consuming sodium at various times and didn’t think twice about it. Needless to say, our pizza consuming habits have changed, and so have my serving sizes. The fact is, most restaurants use an alarming amount of salt in order to season their food (anyone who’s ever worked in one will agree with this). I understand this; food should taste good when you eat out, it’s part of what keeps restaurants in business. When Joel and I cut back on sodium, we really started to notice how salty most restaurant food is. With this recent Bloomberg article showing that restaurant sales have actually exceeded grocery store sales for the first time ever, I can only guess that the amount of sodium Americans consume is ever on the rise.
Exercise and meditation. Isn’t it weird that something that would make your heart pump harder can actually help lower blood pressure? Exercise lowers blood pressure in large part by altering blood vessel stiffness so blood flows more freely. This effect occurs during and immediately after a workout, so the blood-pressure benefits from exercise are most pronounced right after you work out (The New York Times). The best news is that virtually any exercise is effective for lowing hypertension. You don’t even need to go to a gym–or spend hours there–three 10 minute walks, or even just standing more throughout the day, can improve your BP. Once I started exercising at least 4 times a week, I noticed a dramatic result in my readings, and my overall health. Again, I lost weight, was more focused, had more energy and slept amazingly well. The other thing that helps me is meditation. Meditation has been shown to have numerous benefits. I found this cool meditation infographic, check it out here. I try to make meditation a part of my daily routine, and the easiest way for me to do that is to workout in the morning, do some stretches or even a yoga flow, then lay or sit quietly and meditate for 5-10 minutes.
So all this research, mindful eating, and learning about my heart and body lead to some pretty cool (and tasty!) new discoveries over the last two years.
One of those is natural teas and drinks that are beneficial to my body and can help lower my blood pressure. Turmeric is one of my new favorites! It’s anti-inflammatory, and can help protect your blood vessels from damage. I found this tea recipe from Heidi Swanson during one of my “lower my blood pressure” google searches, and it’s now something I enjoy almost everyday (original recipe here.)
The color of this tea helps brighten my rainy-day gloom and the lemon adds another antioxidant punch.
You make a simple mixture of honey and turmeric, and some black pepper and keep that in a jar, in your cupboard. It will keep for a very long time.
When you are ready for a cup, heat some water to about 180 degrees. Boiling water will kill some of the good properties of the raw honey, and you don’t want that! I use an electric kettle, which only has one setting, so I turn it on and when it boils, I let it sit for a few minutes to allow the water to cool a bit.
Add a teaspoon or two of the paste into a teacup and pour hot water over it.
Squeeze half a lemon into the cup, stir well, and sip. You can add some extra grinds of fresh black pepper if you want, which is great for flavor and also helps your body absorb the turmeric.
So what is my current blood pressure? Measured 12/8/2015: 113/74. Not perfect, but getting there! I am not on blood pressure medication (nor have I ever been), all my progress has been made by natural remedies, exercise, diet and sodium adjustments. As I continue to loose pounds from exercise and diet, my blood pressure has (and will) improve. And yes, I still eat pizza occasionally, but its usually homemade, and the slice is a lot smaller, accompanied by a large side salad. Keep an eye on your blood pressure and try out this tasty tea for a little boost in your heart health, or to ease those sore neck muscles.
- ⅓ cup raw, organic and local honey
- 2½ teaspoons dried turmeric
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For serving:
- additional honey (optional)
- Mix the honey, turmeric and black pepper in a small jar. This will keep indefinitely, though the turmeric may loose flavor over time.
- When you are ready to enjoy a cup, heat some water to 180 degrees. Add a teaspoon or two (depending on how strong you like it) to a mug and pour the warm water over it. Squeeze ½ a lemon into the mug and stir well. Add more honey and more black pepper to taste (optional).
*One note about sodium: traditional table salt is often paired with iodine, an essential element for thyroid function. Be advised, that if you significantly limit your table salt consumption, like I did, you may be missing out on iodine. Be sure to get your recommended daily amount. Thyroid function is very important! You can usually find a multivitamin with iodine in it, or try a kelp supplement. Snacks such as roasted Nori are a tasty option, but don’t rely on them for consistent iodine consumption. Here’s an interesting article on iodine.
Best lemon squeezer ever:
Recipe source: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/turmeric-tea-recipe.html