Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, low blood pressure, what are you saying, doctors? What is blood pressure and why should we care?

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure that your blood exerts on the blood vessels. I know…. that’s a bit redundant.

Let me explain blood pressure a bit more, so you can visualize this. From what we’ve learned in school, the molecules in fluids interact closely with one another, meaning that they will not fill the entirety of a container unless you’ve placed enough of that fluid into the container to fill it completely. Each molecule exerts its own amount of force on each other and on the portion of the surface of the container that it interacts with.

Pressure is defined as a force exerted on a particular area. So the amount of force that the molecules exert on a particular portion of a container’s surface is equivalent to the pressure exerted by the molecule onto the container.

Now, if you replace the fluid with blood serum,the molecules with blood cells and the container with blood vessels, you’ll have the same situation; the blood cells each exert its own amount of force on portions of the blood vessel, which is the blood pressure.

Blood pressure naturally increases when your heart contracts to push blood into the blood vessels, and decreases when your heart relaxes.

Why is blood pressure important?

Blood pressure determines how hard your heart has to work to continuously feed your circulatory system with blood. The harder your heart works, the more strain there is in your circulatory system. This can lead to higher risk for health problems.

It’s also important to note that there are a variety of factors that affect blood pressure including how active you are, how much rest you get, your body temperature, diet, posture, medications and even your emotional state. So it’s important to try and stay healthy and active, for your heart and your health!

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Prostate Cancer – Risks and Prevention

The end of Movember is upon us, so I thought it would be good to cover a tidbit on the risks and prevention tips in regards to prostate cancer!

Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer

There are four main categories for the risk factors:

  • Age: Men who are over the age of 40 with a family history of prostate cancer and are African Americans, for other men there is an increased risk after the age of 50. 60% of individuals with prostate cancer were found to be over the age of 65.
  • Family History: As mentioned in the point above, family history plays a role in a man’s risks for prostate cancer. Your risk is doubled if any close male blood relative has or had the disease.
  • Race: African Americans have been found to have the highest rate of prostate cancer in the world.
  • Diet: If you’re not eating healthily (i.e. all meat, no vegetables), then your risk for developing prostate cancer increases. High fiber diets with low red meat/fatty foods consumption is recommended as an alternative diet to help lower your risks.

Tips to maintain and monitor your prostate

  • After you reach the age of 40, it is recommended that you get your prostate checked every year. Prostate cancer is a slow growing cancer, so it doesn’t always display symptoms. This is why it is so important to get your prostate checked yearly.
  • Exercising regularly to stay physically active is important in maintaining your health. Also, maintaining a healthy body weight is important as obesity appears to play a role in the development of cancers
  • Watch what you eat! I’m not saying that you need to count how many fries you eat, but make sure to incorporate more vegetables and fiber into your diet and try to stay away from the red meats and fatty foods when you can! Fish is also very helpful. Some studies found that diets that were high in calcium were also linked to the development of cancers, so let’s not take too many calcium supplements (if your doctor recommends you take a calcium supplement, stick to how much they tell you to take).
  • There are also drugs that help stop the conversion of testosterone into another hormone (dihydrotestosterone), which has been found to promote prostate growth. This growth can lead to abnormal growth (in order words, too much growth).

And those are the risks and prevention tips for prostate cancer! Know your body, stay safe and have a great weekend! 🙂

 

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American Cancer Society. 2013. Can cancer be prevented?. Cancer.org. <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostatecancer/detailedguide/prostate-cancer-risk-factors> November 28, 2013.

Men’s Health Network. 2005. Risk factors. ProstateHealthGuide.org. <http://www.prostatehealthguide.com/cancer_risk.html> November 28, 2013.

Cholesterol – Bad?

Last week, we talked about the good side of cholesterol, which we don’t really hear about. No, instead we hear about the evils of cholesterol and how it can lead to heart disease. But cholesterol seems to help us out a lot, so what makes it so bad?

Types of Cholesterol

There are two ‘types’ of cholesterol. I use ‘types’ but it’s really the type of transport that the cholesterol uses that differentiates one ‘type’ from the other.

You see, cholesterol requires a transport system between the liver, where it is predominantly produced, and other cells because cholesterol is insoluble. The transporters for cholesterol are lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are molecules that consist of a mix of lipids and proteins. The lipid portion of the lipoprotein can interact with the cholesterol, while the protein portion allows the complex to travel in the bloodstream.

There are two different transporters that transport cholesterol; LDL and HDL. LDL stands for Low-Density Lipoprotein while HDL stands for High-Density Lipoprotein. LDLs transport cholesterol from the liver to the other cells in the body, while HDLs transport cholesterol from the cells of the body to the liver.

“Bad Cholesterol”

This refers to cholesterol that is being transported by LDLs. Since the LDLs carry the cholesterol from the liver to the cells, which have a lower storage capacity for cholesterol, there is the possibility of the build-up of the LDLs (and cholesterol) in your bloodstream if you have more cholesterol in your bloodstream than is required for your cells. The build-up will occur on the walls of the arteries that lead to your heart and brain. Too much build-up can result in the formation of a clot, which can induce heart attacks or strokes.

They’re not all bad…

HDL is the superhero of lipoproteins. It’s like the older sibling that looks out for their younger sibling, slowly cleaning up any mess they make. HDLs carry cholesterol from the cells and the bloodstream back to the liver, where it can be broken down into bile and then stored in the gallbladder. On their way, they can help clean up the LDLs’ messes by grabbing them and dragging them back to the liver, where the cholesterol is deposited for further storage. This reduces the amount of LDL in the bloodstream, reducing the build-up in your blood and reducing your risk of heart disease. This is probably why HDLs are referred to as “Good cholesterol”.

LDLs are larger than HDLs, which is probably why the former causes clots whereas the latter doesn’t.

Lowering your Risk

You produce LDLs and HDLs naturally. While you can’t control exactly how much your body produces, you can control what you eat as it was found that certain fats stimulate the production of LDLs.

The American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee strongly advises these guidelines for people over the age of two:

  • Limit total fat intake to less than 25–35 percent of your total daily calories (TDC)
  • Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of TDC
  • Limit trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of TDC
  • The remaining fat (17-27% of TDC) should come from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
  • Limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day, for most people.  If you have coronary heart disease or your LDL cholesterol level is 100 mg/dL or greater, limit your cholesterol intake to less than 200 milligrams a day.

Your physician can check your cholesterol levels by performing a blood test. You want to keep your LDL levels below 130mg/dL and your HDL levels ideally above 60mg/dL. You want low LDL levels and high HDL levels to reduce your risk of heart disease. If you have high LDL levels (the dreaded “high cholesterol”) and/or low HDL levels (the dreaded “low cholesterol”), then you’re going to want to look into dietary and lifestyle changes.

So, it looks like cholesterol can be the good guy or an accomplice depending on who it’s traveling with. Or, I suppose it could be considered a bystander. But now you know that bad cholesterol doesn’t really have to do with the cholesterol itself, but rather its ride.

 

American Heart Association. 2013. Know Your Fats. Heart.org. <http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Know-Your-Fats_UCM_305628_Article.jsp> May 30, 2013.

Cholesterol – Good!

Since we talked about a type of diet last week, I thought it would be ideal to talk about another thing that is often brought up in regards to our diet: cholesterol. We hear about cholesterol, having high or low levels of it, and something about all of that being bad but what is cholesterol? Why do we even have it?

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of organic steroid that is mostly produced in the liver, but is also produced in all of your other cells. That’s right, you make cholesterol. So, it looks like diet is not the only contributor to cholesterol levels.

But why would our bodies produce cholesterol when it’s apparently so awful?

Cholesterol and our Body

Cholesterol is a very helpful molecule, even though it’s received some bad street cred for causing heart disease among other ailments. The membranes of our cells, which will be explored in more detail at some point, require a certain amount of fluidity in order to control what can enter our cells and what doesn’t. There are times, such as in high temperatures, when our cell membranes are too fluid. This will lead to our cells letting  more molecules in than it should be, and can lead to our cells spilling its contents out since it’s lost its relatively stable membrane. Cholesterol helps to restrict the membrane’s fluidity by incorporating itself into the membrane. This allows the membrane to be stronger and prevent strange particles from entering our cells without the proper identification.

Cholesterol also acts as the precursor, or the beginning molecule, for the synthesis of other important molecules in our body. Some of these molecules include steroid hormones, like estrogen or mineralocorticoids (like aldosterone), as well as bile acids, which help to emulsify fats in the small intestine.

So that explains why we make cholesterol, and, so far, it seems wonderful! It’s involved in the production of some hormones, helps emulsify fats and prevents our cells from turning to jelly.

Why should we be wary of cholesterol though?  What role does our diet play in this? We’ll explore all of this next week, so stay tuned!

Low Carb Diets

Low body weight has become a body ideal for western society recently, and with that ideal came the diet craze. Juice diets, low fat diets, low calorie diets and low carb diets became more and more popular. Since we talked a bit about burning fat last week (while you’re sleeping, best diet ever I’d say), I thought I’d explore low carb diets today.

What is a low carb diet?

This diet is when you restrict the amount of carbohydrates you consume. Carbohydrates are in the form of sugars, pastas, bread, etc.  Foods that have a lot of carbohydrates are replaced with foods with high fat and/or protein content, though usually just the latter on its own. These diets can be used to treat obesity and diabetes (lower sugar content in the diet).

How does it work to reduce weight?

Last week, we talked about morning breath and the production of those smelly ketones when your body has burned all of your sugars and begins to burn fat. Now, what if you don’t ingest that many sugars, or carbohydrates, in the first place?

Much like when we sleep, our bodies burn more fats when we consume less sugars. If you ingest less sugars, you’ll have less sugars to oxidize to produce energy. Your body’s stores of sugars will be oxidized faster, leaving our bodies to resort to burning fat to keep obtaining energy. And that’s how you can lose weight with this diet!

More about ketones

At first, this will result in more ketones (a byproduct of fat metabolism during fasting conditions) due to the sudden change in diet from higher amounts of carbohydrates to lower amounts.

Eventually, ketone production may go down if the state of low carbohydrates is no longer be recognized as a state of fasting for your body. But if you keep reducing your intake of carbohydrates, then you will increase your ketone production, which can be hazardous to other metabolic processes in your body.

Ketones are acidic and can raise the acidity of your blood if in high concentration. If it is in a low concentration, however, your buffer system in the blood will maintain the acidity of your blood at a healthy level.