The American Heart Association recommends getting your blood pressure checked at least once every two years starting at age 20. But the next time you have yours checked, don’t just take the reading in one arm.
It’s important to check the blood pressure readings in both of your arms because, while you might assume they’d be the same, there can actually be discrepancies. And a large difference in the readings between your arms might be a strong indicator of your heart attack risk – even if you don’t currently have heart disease.
In a recent study from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, close to 3,400 adults aged 40 years and older had their blood pressure tested in both arms. The average arm-to-arm difference was about 5 points in systolic blood pressure (the first number).
However, about 10 percent of the participants had differences of 10 points or more – and these people were 38 percent more likely to have had a heart attack, stroke or related problem.[i] According to the Harvard Health Letter:[ii]
“Small differences in blood pressure readings between the right and left arm are normal. But large ones suggest the presence of artery-clogging plaque in the vessel that supplies blood to the arm with higher blood pressure. Such plaque is a signal of peripheral artery disease (cholesterol-clogged arteries anywhere in the body other than the heart). When peripheral artery disease is present, there’s a good chance the arteries in the heart and brain are also clogged, boosting the odds of having a heart attack or stroke.”
Past research also showed that arm-to-arm differences in systolic blood pressure of 10 points or more was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events and dying from any cause during the 10-year study period.[iii] In addition to an increased risk of heart problems, a large difference in blood pressure readings between your arms could also signal underlying health problems such as kidney disease, peripheral artery disease (blocked arteries in your arms) or diabetes.[iv]
If you find that you have a large difference in readings, you should use the higher number on which to base your treatment decisions and future readings against.
8 Natural Ways to Maintain Healthy Blood Pressure
About one in three U.S. adults have high blood pressure,[v] but many are unaware of it. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, which is why it’s often referred to as the “silent killer.” If you have high blood pressure and don’t know it, it means your readings can continue to go unchecked, raising your risk of heart disease and stroke.
This can be life threatening, so you should work with a trusted health care provider if you have high blood pressure (and get your levels checked regularly even if you don’t). There are, however, many natural steps that can help you maintain healthy blood pressure levels:[vi]
- Eating right: Your diet should emphasize whole foods like fruits and vegetables, healthful fats and high-quality sources of protein.
- Watching your salt: Look out for excess sodium, especially in processed foods.
- Watching your sugar intake: Recent research suggests sugar intake may be a more important factor in your blood pressure levels than salt, and “a reduction in the intake of added sugars, particularly fructose” may help to cut rates of high blood pressure.[vii]
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Losing even five pounds if you’re overweight may help you lower your blood pressure.
- Exercising: Physical activity helps control your weight and lowers your blood pressure.
- Limiting alcohol: Excess alcohol can raise your blood pressure.
- Avoiding smoking: Smoking will only further injure your blood vessel walls and encourage hardening of your arteries.
- Managing stress: Stress will not do your blood pressure any favors. Try meditation, deep breathing, massages, proper sleep and getting outdoors for relaxation.
High Blood Pressure: The Inflammation Connection
If you have high blood pressure, the walls of your arteries will stretch beyond their healthy limit due to the extra force. Over time, this can lead to weak spots in your blood vessels (which can then rupture, causing stroke), scar tissue in your arteries and veins, and increased risk of blood clots, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.[viii]
High blood pressure may also increase plaque build-up in your arteries, which also can lead to heart attack and stroke, along with tissue and organ damage that occurs due to the narrowed arteries. In short, high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, which is, at its foundation, an inflammatory disease.
Yet, high blood pressure, too, may be a stimulus for inflammation, and this may be one reason why it increases the risk of atherosclerosis[ix] and other heart problems. It’s known, for instance, that C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation in your body, can directly decrease the production of nitric oxide, a powerful neurotransmitter that increases blood circulation and helps blood vessels relax.
So if you have elevated CRP (i.e. high levels of inflammation), it stands to reason that your blood pressure may be increased. According to a study in the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension:[x]
“A possible link between inflammation and elevated blood pressure has been suggested by several cross-sectional and longitudinal studies … The presence of low-grade inflammation, especially elevations of CRP, can help predict the risk of future cardiovascular events and is associated with target organ damage in hypertensive individuals.
… Whether targeting inflammation in the treatment of uncomplicated hypertension can alter the natural history of the disease or lead to improved outcome has yet to be determined.”
What is known, however, is that having high blood pressure along with high levels of inflammation is particularly dangerous. Women who had elevated blood pressure and CRP levels were found to have an eight-fold higher risk of heart attack and stroke, according to one study.[xi]
You Can Reduce Inflammation Naturally
The good news is that you can make a decision, starting today, to drastically lower the inflammation in your own body, and with it help to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. Lack of sleep, stress and exposure to environmental toxins (like pollution or household chemicals) certainly contribute, but what you put in your body — your food and drinks, for instance — also play a major role.
Because of this, a comprehensive anti-inflammatory diet, consisting of inflammation-fighting food, drinks and herbal supplements — is an invaluable tool to help keep this pervasive health threat at bay. Systemic enzymes also have an unsurpassed ability to fight chronic inflammation. Systemic enzymes are unique because they enter your bloodstream, where they are able to target multiple pathogenic processes in your body (unlike drugs, which typically only target one).
This includes relieving inflammation, breaking down scar tissue and other excess tissue, and helping to cleanse your blood for better circulation. While your pancreas makes systemic enzymes, your natural production declines with age.
These inflammation-busters become largely depleted as you hit 40 and over, which is why all-natural Heal-n-Soothe®, the best systemic enzyme formula to replenish your body’s supply of vital enzymes, is so important (especially if you have a large difference in your arms’ blood pressure readings).