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Doctor’s Tip: High blood pressure (hypertension)

Blood pressure consists of two numbers: The upper (systolic) number is the pressure in arteries when the heart contracts; the lower (diastolic) number is the pressure between beats, when the heart muscle is relaxed.

When either the systolic or diastolic pressure is elevated, arteries are damaged. This results in increased risk of heart attacks; heart failure; strokes; kidney disease; dementia including Alzheimer’s; and rupture of the aorta.

Based on studies of large populations, it’s clear that ideal BP is less than 115/75. Above that level, the risk of heart attacks and strokes starts to climb, especially at levels of 140/90 and above. In their book “Beat the Heart Attack Gene,” Brad Bale, M.D. and Amy Doneen, RN, PhD state that in order to prevent heart attacks, doctors should keep their patients’ blood pressures below 120/80. (A caveat is that some frail, elderly people feel light-headed at that level and do better with a somewhat higher BP).

Following are some of the factors that can cause hypertension: 1) obesity; 2) genetics; 3) the standard American diet — high in animal products, fat, sugar, salt and added oil; 4) sleep apnea; 5) thyroid disease; 6) chronic kidney disease; 7) prescription medications such as steroids, some anti-depressants and estrogen; 8) over-the-counter medications such as naproxen, ibuprofen and decongestants; 9) some herbs such as licorice; 10) illicit drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines; 11) alcohol; 12) caffeine in some people; and 13) adrenal gland abnormalities.

Most people with hypertension have no symptoms, and it is therefore known as “the silent killer.” The majority of Americans eventually develop hypertension, and many of those go undiagnosed. It’s therefore important to check your blood pressure periodically, either with your own automatic cuff (you can buy a decent cuff for under $40 — Omron is a good brand), or visiting a blood pressure-checking station, available at Walmart and many grocery stores and pharmacies.

Here’s what we know about lifestyle and hypertension: 1) Early in the 20th century, there were no medications for hypertension, and people — including F.D.R. — died from what was called “malignant hypertension” — blood pressures above 220/120 or so. In the 1940s Dr. Walter Kempner put these people on a strict rice and fruit, salt-free diet, which brought blood pressures down to normal. 2) In countries on a Western diet, blood pressures increase with age. However, in societies such as the Blue Zones, where people are on a lifelong plant-based, whole-food diet, blood pressures are the same at 90 as at 19. 3) When hypertensives are placed on such a diet, blood pressures tend to normalize. 4) Blood pressure goes up during exercise, but regular moderate daily exercise helps lower blood pressure.

In his book “How Not to Die,” Dr. Greger mentions the following foods as being particularly effective at lowering blood pressure if consumed every day: whole (unprocessed) grains; ground flaxseed; hibiscus tea; legumes; watermelon. Also helpful are foods that cause the endothelial organ system that lines our arteries to produce nitric oxide, which causes arteries to dilate, thereby lowering blood pressure: beets, greens, cilantro, basil and rhubarb.

Lifestyle changes are inexpensive and free of side effects. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to make them. There are now multiple medications to treat hypertension, and many have only rare side effects. If your blood pressure is high, it’s important to get down to 120/80 or less, one way or the other. If you are young, or if your hypertension is difficult to control, your provider should look for aforementioned factors that could be contributing.

Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is a retired family physician with a special interest in heart disease and diabetes prevention and reversal, ideally through lifestyle changes. He’s available for free, one-hour consultations — call 970-379-5718.

Torres column: Persistence is the key to reaching your goals

I’m amazed by people who get astonishing results when I assess them for weight loss. I usually ask myself what the difference is between the people who get results and the ones who struggle. Family responsibilities, work, knowledge, support, money? Even though all of these are contributing factors, one thing sets apart those who get results from those who struggle.

I have clients who work, have more than one child and the support system is not ideal. They are some of my best members and lose pounds every week.

Persistence, I think, is the answer. When people really want something, they make it happen. I have no doubt about this. Many of my clients have shown me that they are capable of doing more than I think they can.

Many people think that those who lose weight have it easy. They may not understand that they needed to make time and not wait until they have time. Nobody has time. They cut television time and ask their husbands to help them with their children. They wake up earlier to cook. They plan their day and find ways to attend their sessions. They continue learning and focus on the healthy things they can do. They improve their eating every week and their strength in training sessions. Weight loss becomes part of their life in a healthy way — not an obsession but a lifestyle.

Are these people free from problems — no bills to pay, family issues, car issues, work issues, health issue or other worries? They are just as human as we are. They have problems just like anybody else. This is what really amazed me — the persistence they have, and there is nothing that can stop them. They make no excuses.

If people had no worries, it would be easy to lose weight and to have a nice body because there would be no interventions in their program. Everyone could do it. The reality is that no one has no problems, including those who get what they want.

Believe me, I’m aware that life is difficult. I live it myself, and when things get in the way, I find ways to continue persevering toward my goals. Just like my clients, I give away many things that many won’t give way.

Life is always changing; sometimes things are just perfect (up), sometimes they’re crazy (down), that is life. During the down times is when growth happens, when amazing things take place, when only the strong keep moving ahead.

When things get out of control and are not happening the way we planned, that it is the time we want to be strong. Anybody can be positive and smile when life is easy, when everything is normal, when there are no problems, when our family is just fine. However, it’s the hard moments when we need to be strong, smile, stay positive, find the good in everything and continue persevering toward our goals. This is what sets some of my clients apart from the rest who don’t get results when life gets crazy.

Sandro Torres is owner of Custom Body Fitness in Basalt and Glenwood Springs and author of the books “Lose Weight Permanently” and “Finding Genuine Happiness.” His column appears on the second Monday of the month.


Garfield County Public Health seeks to build COVID-19 vaccine trust with video-story project

Sylvia Johnson, contact tracer and La Vacuna Es Para Nosotros project lead for Garfield County Public Health.

A new project of Garfield County Public Health — complete with video, pictures and personal narratives — is aimed at building trust in the push to convince those who may still be hesitant about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, especially within the Latino community.

La Vacuna es Para Nosotros, or “the Vaccine is For Us,” is a photo and video essay project sponsored by Public Health and created by Sylvia Johnson, who has been working as a bilingual contact tracer for the county since last fall.

Johnson is a professional videographer and photographer who was born in Latin America and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley.

She is also a National Geographic “Explorer,” a program that identifies people around the world who are gifted at raising awareness and helping solve problems through their work.

Johnson applied for and got approval for a small National Geographic Rapid Response grant to fund the project.

She said the project came about from listening to people’s stories about what it’s been like to live with the pandemic over the past year, and especially from those who had COVID-19.

“It was a chance to humanize the experience, and provide an opportunity for our essential workers and service workers to tell the story of what their experience has been like,” she said.

It’s also a way to share their personal decisions to get vaccinated, and why that was important to moving forward with their lives, Johnson said.

The project consists of 14 photo stories and a short video created by Johnson.

“By sharing stories that build trust and calm fears about the COVID-19 vaccine, we can end the pandemic,” Garfield County Public Health Specialist Carrie Godes said.

The photo stories include whole families, restaurant workers, business owners, farm workers, law enforcement officers, housekeepers, medical interpreters and students.

The photo stories are available in Spanish and English, and the project includes a dedicated web page on the Garfield County website with a link to the 2-minute, 15-second video and a 29-page digital story book.

The project also is to include a marketing campaign with audio clips for radio, as well as print and social media advertising.

As of Monday, 45% of Garfield County’s population that is eligible to receive the vaccine has been fully vaccinated, and 55% has received at least one dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, according to Garfield Public Health statistics.

Although not everyone who gets the vaccine answers demographic information, according to the Colorado Immunization Information System, 12% of Garfield County residents who received at least one dose have been Hispanic and 27% are unknown.

Of the vaccines administered by Garfield County Public Health, which accounts for only a small percentage of those administered countywide, 36% indicated that they are Hispanic, while 48% are White/Non-Hispanic and 12% are unknown, Godes said.

Meanwhile, the county continues to step up its vaccination efforts alongside providers such as Valley View and Grand River hospitals.

Site-based clinics are being conducted multiple times a week from Carbondale to Parachute, and the state’s pop-up mobile clinic has been making visits to specific underserved neighborhoods across the county, Godes said.

“Our goal is to make things more accessible, and more equitable,” she said.

County efforts have also targeted the homeless, the county jail population, those in hospice care, high schools and, soon now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for the 12- to 15-year-old age group, middle school students as well.

Clinics have also been conducted at some places of employment, and more could be offered by request, Godes said.

“We are targeting neighborhoods and geographic areas with identified needs at the moment,” she said. “The areas we have been targeting are easy to access locations in each municipality, such as schools, low-income neighborhoods or areas with homes that lack easy access to public transportation.”

The vaccination effort is having an impact on the number of new COVID-19 cases in Garfield County. As of Monday, the daily incident rate was less than six, with a one-week case count of 30 and a test positivity rate of 2.2%.

“The vaccinations are working, and the proof is in the numbers,” County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said during the commissioners’ regular Monday meeting.

Added Commissioner Mike Samson, “I would just encourage everyone to get vaccinated … so we can get back to normal.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.