Vitamin D Supplements May Reduce Blood Pressure

vitamins, hypertension, african americans The possibility that something as readily accessible as Vitamin D, aka "the Sunshine Vitamin," might reduce blood pressure in African Americans is big news. With over 40% of all African Americans tussling with high blood pressure, Blacks have significantly higher rates of hypertension than other US populations along with lower levels of circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D (vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol). A possible precursor to coronary artery disease (i.e. heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and peripheral vascular disease or hardening of the arteries in the legs and feet), hypertension poses a clear public-health threat to the Black community. To date, there has been no definitive reason identified for the potentially life-threatening health disparity posed by this high level of hypertension. However, recent research presented in the American Heart Association's journal, Hypertension, suggests that Vitamin D deficiency might play a specific role in the "mechanics" of hypertension among Blacks.

Approved by the Institutional Review Board of Harvard School of Public Health and funded by various sources including NIH, researchers from seven major teaching hospitals pooled their brainpower to conduct what is believed to be the first large, controlled study on the impact of Vitamin D supplementation on blood pressure in Blacks. Two hundred eighty-three participants who self-identified as Black were randomized in the double-blind study that took place in the Northeast over 3 month periods during two winters. The study was conducted during winter months because sun exposure is a key contributor to parent Vitamin D and sun exposure declines in Northeastern winters. Ironically, pigmentation is responsible for a large part of the lower stores of Vitamin D among Blacks, since sun exposure is a key source of the Vitamin and darker pigmentation actually reduces Vitamin D production

Participants were given either a placebo or 1000, 2000, or 4000 international units of Vitamin D3- per day. Results were promising. Measured in mm Hg, systolic blood pressure (SBP), the top figure in the blood pressure reading, indicates pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The authors reported Vitamin D supplementation significantly, yet modestly, lowered systolic blood pressure! Diastolic blood pressure, pressure in the arteries between heart beats, was unchanged by Vitamin D supplementation.

Among the 250 participants studied in the 3-month follow-up:

* SBP actually increased +1.7mm Hg on average for placebo group * 1,000 units of Vitamin D/day showed a .7 mm Hg decrease in SBP * A 3.4 mm Hg decrease in SBP was calculated among those taking 2,000 units of Vitamin D/day * The largest decline in SBP, 4 mm Hg, was among participants taking 4,000 units Vitamin D/day

Although modest in its scope and not projectable in its findings, the suggestive nature of these research outcomes shines a bright light in the dark tunnel of hypertension in Blacks. If further research confirms that Vitamin D supplementation does indeed reduce SBP in Blacks, the public health implications could be very positive. Vitamin D supplementation is readily available, relatively inexpensive, and easy to incorporate into lifestyle giving it the potential to impact large numbers of people. Although the final word is pending, with the impact of Vitamin D deficiency reaching beyond hypertension and cardiovascular disease and linking to some cancers, suboptimal bone health, and increases in inflammation, it is certainly worth asking your physician to include a Vitamin D screen in your next blood panel. They're already drawing blood, so you have nothing to lose and a quite a bit to gain!

salmon, vitamin d, healthy

Here are some easy-to-follow tips for making great Vitamin D-levels and healthy blood pressure a part of your life:

* Food Picks: Nutrition also plays a role in Vitamin D. Although not too many foods are naturally high in Vitamin D, the fatty fish cod liver oil, swordfish and sockeye salmon top the list of natural food-sources of Vitamin D. Dairy milk, butter, cream, and cheeses along with some orange juice, soy, almond and rice beverages and ready-to-eat cereals are all fortified with the Vitamin. Read the labels to determine the levels in each food.

* More is not necessarily better: If your labwork reports that you are Vitamin D deficient, ask your physician for guidance in selecting the right dose of supplement. An excess of Vitamin D, or Vitamin D toxicity, can create problems including weight loss and an increase in blood levels of calcium which can damage the heart, blood vessels and kidneys. Remember to ask for advice. Don't go it alone in adding Vitamin D supplements.

* Check your blood pressure readings: Make sure your legs and feet are uncrossed and your feet are flat on the floor when taking your blood pressure. Also, know your machine. Take your home machine with you to your annual check-up and check your blood pressure immediately after the health-professional takes a reading. Right down the two figures so you'll have the comparison right at your fingertips.

For more stories from Carla F. Williams:

Cooking with Collards Healthy Deviled Eggs Hidden Salt Skillet Corn The Olympian's Plate

Deviled Eggs that Ditch the Cholesterol

Photo: pietroizzo For as long as I can remember, deviled eggs have been one of my absolute favorite foods. Maybe it's my Southern roots. I still remember sitting on the beach as a little girl, watching anxiously as my mom pulled the rectangular plastic container of delectable deviled eggs out of the bright red ice chest. Cholesterol wasn't in the dietary vocabulary then and I just LOVED deviled eggs! Now I know the challenges with munching on too many pieces as a snack. The whites are jammed with lean protein but the yolks come with a little too much cholesterol for snack status. Add the salt from typical jarred mustard and the sprinkled-in salt, along with fat from standard mayo and all of a sudden you can't munch on those creamy deviled eggs quite as freely as you might like.

I can't give up deviled eggs and truthfully, I don't want to have to count the pieces so closely. I created this recipe to solve a personal problem. I've swapped out garbanzo beans for most of the yolks which reduces the cholesterol and saturated fat while adding a little bean-goodness. I've reduced the sodium by creating a homemade mustard blend, adding flavor without so much sodium. Now, I have a creamy, low-cholesterol deviled egg with a fraction of the standard sodium--the perfect way to enjoy those beautifully-colored Easter Eggs hanging out in the fridge and keep my body hopping at the same time.

Photo: Andrew Scrivani

Deviled eggs aren't just for Easter. They're great any time of the year. Remember these when you're planning a picnic, setting up an appetizer buffet, or putting snacks in the fridge. Think of this recipe as a healthful springboard. If you're in the mood, stir in chopped Canadian Bacon or low-sodium tuna for added flavor. Drape a small sliver of smoked salmon over the top and sprinkle with dill for a great addition to a brunch table. If you're lucky enough to have it, smoked trout also makes a tasty topper.

RECIPE: Healthy Deviled Eggs

Transcendental Meditation May Help Fight Heart Disease

We're all familiar with the uncomfortable feelings stress can create. What's even more important than the feelings, however, is what that stress may be doing to our bodies. The medical community links "psychosocial stress" to both the onset and the progression of cardiovascular disease (CVD), proof positive that stress affects our lives beyond our conscious feelings.  Plainly put, stress can indeed kill and reducing stress is key to protecting our health and wellbeing. The good news is that it appears that our brains may well have the power to positively impact our health by helping keep stress at bay.

Transcendental Meditation (TM) has been shown to reduce stress and help overcome the stress-driven contributors to CVD, including hypertension.  The beneficial outcomes springing from this mind-over-matter are so promising that The National Institute of Health has granted over $24 million in grants over the past 20+ years to study the effects of Transcendental Meditation and related programs tackling CVD.  A study recently released in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes tracked the impact of Transcendental Meditation versus health education on heart disease in a controlled sample of 201 African-American men and women who had already been diagnosed with CVD.  TM came in strong as a tool for helping improve the cardio health of the participants over a 5 + year period, significantly reducing risk for mortality, myocardial infarction (a.k.a. heart attack), and stroke along with lowering blood pressure.

The study authors describe TM as a "simple, natural, effortless procedure that is practiced 20 minutes twice a day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed." During this process, ordinary thinking processes settle down and physiological rest kicks in. Although the process may be simple, there was nothing simple about the training study participants received. It was quite intense with an instructor certified by the Maharashi Foundation guiding them through a 7-step course of instruction over six 1.5 -2 hour meetings with follow-up over the course of the study.  They invested hours in learning to calm their minds and their bodies, an investment that paid off.

The implications of this study and the string of similar studies go beyond African-Americans. The writing is on the wall for everyone.  Meditation and developing the ability to truly calm our minds might well improve the health of our bodies. Transcendental Meditation may not be on your radar but if you think about it, what's not to love about a risk-free potential pathway to better health?  TM has a lot going for it.  Once you master the process it costs nothing, can be practiced almost anywhere and requires no special equipment.  It's certainly worth looking into.  Your heart may just thank you.

Hidden Salt, a.k.a "The Salty Six"

It's no secret that sodium can play a villainous role in our health. We've all heard that the average American consumes far more sodium than we should, increasing our risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.  The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends fewer than 2,300 mg sodium/day for many Americans but fewer than 1,500 mg/day for people 51 and older, African-Americans, and anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Earlier this year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 9 out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium daily. Before even picking up the salt shaker, the average American takes in about 3,300 mg sodium/day, more than twice the recommended amount for about half of Americans and 6 out of 10 adults.

Research has determined that the lion's share of sodium isn't coming from our salt shakers. So, where are we getting the recorded high intakes?  The American Heart Association (AHA) dug into a February 2012 CDC Vital Signs report detailing the top 10 sources of sodium in our diets which account for 44% of our sodium intake. The AHA took it from there, creating a catchy way to help us all remember which foods account for most of the hidden salts. They recently debuted these foods as "The Salty Six," the top six sources of sodium in our diets culled from the CDC's list of top ten salt-packers.

There's nothing exotic about "The Salty Six."  Instead, they're the everyday foods that make up mainstays for many Americans. A few of these were obvious picks for high-sodium foods but some others are likely to come as a surprise - either because we don't think of them as high sodium or because we just haven't stopped to do the math.

The Vital Signs report reveals that the top 10 sodium -sources in our diets account for over 40% of individual sodium intake.  The most common sodium-sources in our diets are:

1. Breads and rolls

2. Cold cuts and cured meats - deli meats, bacon,

3. Pizza

4.  Poultry

5.  Soup

6. Sandwiches including cheeseburgers

7.  Cheese

8.  Pasta - mixed dishes

9.  Meat - mixed dishes

10.  Savory snacks - chips, popcorn, pretzels, and puffs

Finding out where the sodium is hidden is the first step. The next, and very critical step, is finding out how to get a handle on our intake. The article, "Strategies for Conquering 'The Salty Six'" gives you a headstart with item-by-item sodium saving tips for keeping sodium in check while keeping these foods on your plate.

Cooking with Collards

To those in the know, collard greens are simply "collards." I'm in the know; I grew up with them. One of my earliest culinary memories is the seemingly ever-present pot of greens on my grandmother's stove. I loved collards then and I love them now.

This member of the cabbage family was cultivated by the ancient Greeks and Romans and was first mentioned in the U.S. near the end of the 1600's. Upon arrival in the U.S., slaves from Africa quickly incorporated the prolifically growing collards into their repertoire for "making do" with whatever they could get. A true Southern staple, collards are finally catching on with cooks beyond the South, with chefs everywhere now proudly showcasing them on menus.

Collards are a sturdy vegetable with broad, darkish blue-green leaves. Many Southern-style cooks simmer the greens for hours, oftentimes with a ham hock floating away in the pot. The "pot likker," i.e. the juices in the bottom of the pot, is traditionally sipped, sprinkled with crumbled cornbread, or dunked with cornbread. The best method for capturing greens' nectar is so personal that it actually sparked the Pot Likker and Cornpone Debate of 1931 that began between an editor and a lawmaker and took on national status. There was no loser here since regardless of your chosen method, scores of nutrients including Potassium and Vitamins A, B, and C hang out in that deliciously soothing broth.

Collards are jam-packed with nutrients and power. They're insanely high in fiber, Vitamin A, and Vitamin K - a natural blood-thinner. Collards are also very, very strong in Vitamin C, Manganese, Potassium, Folate, and Calcium. The list goes on and on, including help in ushering unhealthy cholesterol from our bodies and some potential anti-cancer properties. It's simple. Collards are just plain good for you.

Available year round, collards are sweeter when grown in cool weather. Look for firm, deeply-colored leaves without any yellow or brown around the edges. Holes in the leaves are just a sign that an insect has passed that way. To store for a day or two, refrigerate in a plastic bag, pushing out as much air as possible. Prep for cooking by peeling the leaves from the stem with your fingers or holding them by the stem and cutting the leaves off with a sharp paring knife.

Yes, I love that collards are so good for me. But truth be told, I eat them because I love their rich, almost smoky flavor and their tender-tough texture. I also love what I can do with them - cook them all day in my slow cooker for a southern-style dish that's waiting for me, turn them into a quick stir fry for a lighter side, or pair them with chicken for a main dish with African roots.