BP levels

  1. Low salt comes with high risk

    Next time your doctor says "cut back on the salt, or else" ask him one question.

    Or else what?

    He'll tell you how all that salt is responsible for the high blood pressure that leads to heart disease. But if you've tried to cut back on salt, then you already know how well it works -- not at all.

    It's not just you.

    A low-salt diet is actually scientifically proven to have little to no impact on your BP levels, and a new study confirms it: Researchers in Europe say cutting back on sodium trims just 1 percent off a healthy person's BP levels, and 3.5 percent off those of someone battling hypertension.

    And in exchange for those meaningless dips in blood pressure, patients who stuck to the low-salt lifestyle saw a 7 percent surge in deadly triglycerides and a 2.5 percent overall boost in cholesterol levels.

    In other words, if your BP spikes a little and your doc tells you to stick to a low-salt diet to avoid hypertension meds, he'll almost certainly end up giving you those meds anyway -- and a statin to boot.

    Consider that a bonus.

    If this was the first study of its kind, it would be easy to be a little skeptical -- and there's absolutely nothing wrong with being skeptical. But it's not -- and it's not the second or third study either.

    In fact, it's the fourth study just this year to find no benefit to a low-salt diet -- not to mention the dozens of other studies that have reached the same conclusion over the years.

    If you're concerned about blood pressure, forget about salt. Cut back on sugar instead -- because the research on this has been remarkably consistent: People who consume the most sugar have the highest blood pressure levels.

    That's why one of the most immediate benefits of a low-carb diet is a swift reduction in blood pressure.

    Once you get the sugar out, don't focus on salt so much as your salt-to-potassium ratio. Thanks to processed foods, most people get more salt than potassium. In reality, you should get about three times as much potassium as salt.

    Make those two changes, and you can hit the saltshaker to your heart's content -- and never have to worry about your BP levels again.

  2. Poor sleep linked to hypertension

    If you're battling blood pressure problems, you don't need another med -- you just need better sleep... and that doesn't necessarily mean more sleep.

    "Better" sleep is slow-wave sleep -- the deep sleep that helps to refresh our bodies and restore our minds. And now, a new study finds that people who miss out on it aren't just tired, forgetful, and irritable -- they have a dramatically higher risk of hypertension, too.

    Researchers checked the BP levels and monitored the sleep habits of 784 senior men on two occasions, three and a half years apart.

    They found that men who spend less than 4 percent of the night in slow-wave sleep were 83 percent more likely to develop hypertension between the two tests than men who spend at least 17 percent of the night locked inside that deepest of slumbers.

    The men who got the low-quality sleep were also more likely to get less overall sleep, wake up more often, and even suffer from sleep apnea.

    So how much quality sleep are you getting? There's no way to know for sure without spending a night in a sleep lab. But one way you can tell on your own, right now, is to just see how you feel in the morning.

    If you wake up feeling lousy, odds are you're not getting enough. Poor sleep can do so much more than raise your blood pressure. Lack of sleep and low-quality rest can boost the odds of everything from cognitive decline to an early death.

    You definitely don't want any part of that – but don't rush off to your doctor and beg him for sleep meds, either, because there are natural solutions that can help you to get the best rest of your life.

    One recent study found that seniors can overcome sleep problems with the help of talk therapy in as little as two in-person sessions and two follow-up phone calls. (Read about it here.)

    Other studies have found that you can get relief by making simple lifestyle adjustments -- like cutting back on late-day caffeine -- or easy nutritional additions, such as a calcium and magnesium supplement before bedtime.

    For more on the risks of sleepless nights -- and how to beat them -- read this.

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