Deep Breathing to Lower Blood Pressure

A new breathing device called Resperate is being marketed to slow your breathing rate, stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and ultimately lower your blood pressure. The device sells for $330 and has been discussed in numerous health letters the last few weeks including the Harvard Health Newsletter.

The sympathetic nervous system controls involuntary functions such as breathing, digestion, heart rate. The parasympathetic division of it can slow your heart rate, dilate blood vessels and ultimately lower your blood pressure. The Resperate device uses sensors on your chest connected to a belt device to create a slow melody for you to listen to and breathe to. You synchronize your breathing to the melody slowing your breathing with prolonged exhalations. The slow breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system slowing your heart rate, dilating blood vessels and lowering your blood pressure.

The device is used four times per week for 10-15 minutes sessions and should lower your diastolic and systolic blood pressure over a few weeks. How much and for how long does the effect work is currently unknown.

Medicare does not yet cover the cost of the device but some private insurers do.  After reading about slow breathing lowering blood pressure I looked for information on breathing techniques to lower your blood pressure without requiring a breathing machine. A website viitalheartandbrain.com offered several options:

Thirty Second Method: Sit in a quiet place and relax. Set a timer for thirty seconds and begin. Take six slow deep breaths through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth during the 30 second period. Repeat the process as often as you can. This method studied with 20,000 Japanese adults lowered BP.

Equal Breath Length Method: Begin by sitting or lying down in a quiet area and close your eyes. Inhale through your nose counting to 4. Pause and feel the air in your lungs. Exhale thorough your mouth to the count of four. Feel the emptiness of your lungs. Repeat as often as you can

4-7-8 Breathing Technique: Sit in a quiet place. Place the tip of your tongue behind your teeth. Inhale through your nose slowly counting to four. Hold this breath for a count of seven. Exhale through your mouth to a count of eight making a gentle whooshing sound. Repeat four times per session

Diaphragmatic Breathing: Lie flat on your back. Place a pillow under your neck and bend your knees up. Place one hand on your chest and one under your rib cage (diaphragm). Inhale slowly through your nose and watch the hand placed under your rib cage rise while the hand on your chest remains still. Exhale through your pursed lips while watching the hand under your rib cage descend and the hand on your chest remaining still. Repeat the process several times.

Give these relaxation techniques and slow breathing techniques an opportunity to relieve your stress and lower your BP and heart rate. In a previous post I discussed tea both green and regular tea lowering blood pressure. Try a cup after the breathing exercises for further relaxation. If tea isn’t your drink, then consider unsalted tomato juice, beet juice, prune juice, pomegranate juice or skim milk. These drinks all had a similar blood pressure lowering effect.

Aerobic Training Helps Blood Pressure Medications Do Their Job

We are always looking for ways to stay healthy with less medicine.  Miguel Ramirez-Jiminez, PhD of the  University of Castilla-La Mancha, Toledo, Spain presented a paper to the American College of Sports Medicine recently week and addressed this topic.

His group looked at 36 obese and overweight adults who normally did less than 120-minutes of physical activity per week. Ages ranged from 53 – 65 years with 22% postmenopausal women. They had all been taking blood pressure medications for at least eight years and all met the criteria for having the metabolic syndrome which includes hypertension, elevated blood glucose, elevated triglycerides and a large waist.

The group was randomly divided into a placebo group whose medication was stopped or a trial group who continued their antihypertensive medications for the next three days. All participants then underwent 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring. All the participants were then entered into a four-month cycling program three times a week. 

After completing the four months of cycling training the placebo group again did not receive their medications for three days while the trial group did.  Twenty-four-hour ambulatory blood pressure was then checked in both groups.

The group exercising plus taking their medications saw an average drop in blood pressure of 3-5 mm Hg in addition to the 5mm Hg noted just from the medication’s pre-exercise training. When the exercise program stopped, the extra drop in blood pressure additionally dropped. There is a phenomenon known as “post exercise hypotension” that can reduce your blood pressure for up to 24 hours after training. This is the reason experts advise 3-5 exercise sessions per week.  

The study also revealed that if you exercise aggressively, and hope to permanently stop your blood pressure medications, your pressure usually rises above acceptable levels.  Exercise is not a substitute for prescribed blood pressure medicines. The article can be found at www.medscape.com  

Eggs Are Safe & Delicious

A few years ago, while visiting my pug’s veterinarian to try and find a way to get the dog to eat while undergoing radiation therapy, he suggested, “Why don’t you scramble him some eggs? It’s a great protein source and doesn’t contribute to cardiovascular disease in canines.” I have to admit I was a bit jealous since I was avoiding eggs, using egg whites and Egg Beaters instead. Two recent studies suggest eggs are safe for humans too.,

The American Journal of Medicine, in the January 2021 edition, published a research paper by C. Krittanwong, MD and associates which looked at 23 prospective studies covering a median of 12.8 years and 1,415,839 patients. There were 157,324 cardiovascular events during the study period. “Compared with the consumption of no egg or 1 egg per day, higher consumption was not associated with significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease events. Higher egg consumption (>1 egg per day) was associated with a significantly decreased risk of coronary artery disease compared to no egg or one egg per day.

A study with similar results was published in the March 2020 edition of the British Medical Journal in a study involving 14,806 patients over 32 years. “Moderate egg consumption is not associated with increased cardiovascular risk overall.”

The message is clear, eggs are a fine source of protein in moderation.

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs Can Injure Your Kidneys

When I awaken and first get out of bed, I feel my seventy-one years of age.  Decades of weight bearing exercise including running, jogging and walking, in addition to basketball and tennis on hard surfaces, has contributed to wear and tear arthritic discomfort.  I think all the time about popping naproxen, ibuprofen or some other medicine for pain but the risk of an adverse event results in me sucking it up and working through it. 

These wonderful pain medications work by inhibiting prostaglandins involved in the inflammatory response. One of those prostaglandins also keeps the coronary arteries open. The NSAIDS can inhibit the mucous covering of the stomach leading to stomach inflammation and bleeding. 

As a physician caring for senior adults these incredible pain killers can injure the kidneys. By the time we reach 70 years of age most of us have naturally lost 70% of our functioning kidney cells. We do very well with the remaining 25% if we do not stress the kidney asking it to call on reserves it no longer possesses.

A study on the kidney effects of these drugs was published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology in April 2021 by physicians working in Hong Kong. They performed a retrospective analysis of kidney function in almost 2 million Chinese individuals in Hong Kong – all over 18 and with normal kidney function. The study looked at those individuals with a prescription for a NSAID for a minimum of 28 days and found a marked decrease in their Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) and a 94% increased risk of a decline of GFR of 30% or greater.

The study looked at ibuprofen, celecoxib, diclofenac, indomethacin, naproxen, piroxicam, sulindac and mefenamic acid. The average patient was 55 years old and 53% were women.  Their results showed that ibuprofen was the least likely to lower GFR indicating kidney injury but even it conferred a risk of 12% on GFR declining to less than 60%.

The findings of this study reinforce what we already know. A steady diet of NSAIDs will injure your kidneys.  An occasional dosage is probably still safe if you take it with food in your stomach and remain well hydrated.

We live in a society where physical exercise and activity are encouraged for health.  Long-term activity will lead to morning stiffness and aches and pains. Traditional opioid pain medications are addictive and clearly not the answer. NSAIDs were hoped to be safer but apparently not so on a long-term steady basis.

Sugary Drinks & Increased Colon Cancer

The Nurses Health Study II followed 95,464 nurses’ health from 1991- 2015. Principal researcher Yin Cao, ScD, MPH, of Washington University in St. Louis and co-researchers found that those women consuming two sugar sweetened beverages a day in adulthood had more than double the early onset colorectal cancer risk as those consuming less than one serving a week. The risk rose by 16% with each additional serving per day.

In adolescents aged 13-18, each serving per day increment was accompanied by a 32 % higher risk of early onset colorectal cancer. As adolescents reach adulthood, replacing these sugar sweetened beverages with artificially sweetened beverages, coffee or milk was associated with a 17-36% lower risk.

The diagnosis of colorectal cancer in those born around 1990, and risk of developing it, is twice as much risk of developing colon cancer and four times the risk of developing rectal cancer as in adults born around 1950. Cao and associates offered several theoretical reasons for the findings including the use of fructose corn syrup as a sweetener instead of real sugar. Fructose corn syrup is known to make changes to the intestinal wall making it more susceptible to carcinogens. And, it has been shown to cause intestinal tumors in mice.

The message is clear. Obstetricians, family practitioners, pediatricians and internists need to start asking about sugar sweetened beverages in our patient histories. Screening for colon and rectal cancer at a younger age with fecal globulin tests, Cologuard fecal genetic testing and fiber optic exams in a younger group is essential. Most importantly, we must educate teenagers and young adults about the dangers of these sugar sweetened beverages so they don’t give them to their friends and eventually their own children.

New Device Helps Stroke Victims with Hand Function Difficulties

Stroke victims often lose function of a hand. The road back to recovery involves months of physical therapy and work.

Last month the FDA approved the Neurolutions IpsiHand Upper Extremity Rehabilitation System for survivors of stroke trying to regain hand, wrist or arm function.  The system uses EEG electrodes to record your brain activity and then uses these messages to move an electronic hand brace according to the intended muscle movement. It essentially delivers your brain’s intended electrical message to the brace to retrain your limb to work.

This is a sophisticated device which will need to be fitted by stroke rehab professionals and then tailored for individual patient needs so it can be successfully used.

Caffeine Before Exercise Helps You Burn Fat

Researchers at the University of Granada have published a research article in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showing that drinking a caffeinated beverage 30-minutes before exercising in the afternoon is the best way to burn fat. Morning exercise with caffeine, or without, was less productive at burning fat than afternoon exercise. Fifteen men, with an average age 32, each completed an aerobic exercise test four times with seven days in between testing. On the days tested, they were given either a caffeine dose equivalent to a strong cup of coffee or a placebo. They then rested for 30-minutes and then completed the aerobic exercise. Their meals were standardized on test days. Researchers measured the participants for fat oxidation, maximum oxygen uptake and exercise intensity.

Caffeine increased fat oxidation by 10.7 % in the morning and 29% in the afternoon. Caffeine increased exercise intensity by 11% in the morning and 13% in the afternoon. Maximum oxygen uptake was higher in the afternoon.

Recent literature has shown the benefit of tea in lowering systolic blood pressure. I think I might try a stiff cup of tea 30-minutes before my after-work exercise regimens. Come to think of it, Ii will try some coffee prior to my weekend morning workouts as well.

A New Device To Protect the Brains of Athletes From Head Impact

As a parent of athletic girls who played competitive soccer and other sports that involved using your head to control a kicked or thrown ball, I always knew that studies of the brain of European professional soccer players showed much of the same brain injuries seen in professional boxers. We also saw several goalies diving to prevent a ball from entering the goal collide and hitting their heads with the goal’s metal side supports or with an opposing player. Several of the team parents and I tried to design a protective helmet for youth soccer but we never came up with anything that FIFA, the soccer world’s governing body, would allow to be worn during a game.

I played high school football, and a year in college, once suffering a concussion requiring an overnight hospital stay. Later in life as a physician I have followed the discovery of traumatic brain injuries and long-term permanent brain damage in football players, hockey players, soccer players and our military in combat. I wondered when the same creative humans who can send men to the moon and back would design items to protect the brains of competitive athletes.

Q30 Sports Science, LLC apparently has. They received FDA approval for their Q Collar which is designed to prevent deep tissue brain injury from head impacts. The Q Collar is already being marketed and used by athletes in Canada.

The Q Collar is a neck brace worn for up to four hours a day. It was designed after looking at woodpeckers head battering rams and trying to determine why, with all the head trauma they sustain, they do not develop CTE or other permanent traumatic brain injuries. Human brains are suspended in protective fluid inside a bony skull. The force of our head neck and shoulders colliding with a person or object allows our brains to slosh around unrestrained inside the skull and often hitting the extremely hard bony skull bones.

The Q collar increases the blood volume in our internal jugular veins causing a much tighter fit of the brain within the skull and preventing the movement or slosh. By reducing the movement of the brain within the skull it protects the brain from head impact injuries.

The collar was tested on a high school football team who wore state of the art football helmets plus an accelerometer which measured every impact the head sustained during play and practice. There were 284 participants with 139 athletes wearing the Q collar and 145 did not. Each athlete underwent a preseason specialized MRI study of the brain and a post season study. This allowed researchers to look to deep tissue brain injury that occurred over the course of that season. Significant changes were found in the deep tissue of brains on 106 of the 145 (73%) of the participants in the non-Q collar groups. No significant changes were found in 107 of 139 (77%) of the group who wore the Q collar.

The Q collar can be worn for four hours at a time and should be replaced every two years. No pricing data have been released but the intention is to sell the device directly to consumers. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states that in any year there are 1.6 million to 3.8 million traumatic brain injuries related to competitive and recreational sports.

As a parent I would want my child to be wearing this type of device when they engaged in sports that had head impact injuries as a potential side effect. It will remain to be seen just how effective this type of device will be in other recreational activities such as skiing, snowboarding, biking, riding scooters or skating and; will it have an impact in the military on blast injuries? Will insurance companies require such a device for contact sports?

Put on a Mask and Just Stay Home!

I listened to the Governor of my home state, Florida, declare our state the freedom state because all the businesses are open and running full tilt.  He cited his success in keeping deaths from coronavirus low while keeping the economy running and jobs available.

I bring this up because on my way to visit my fully vaccinated adult children last weekend I passed by at least 20 overhead electronic road signs proclaiming, “Miami Beach Curfew 8PM – 6 AM Causeways Closed!”  Yes, here it was springtime with Passover and Easter on the horizon and the famed Miami Beach was closing at night.  We are at a critical point in the fight against the Sars2 COVID-19 coronavirus. We are trying to vaccinate enough people quickly so that the virus does not enter a vulnerable host and mutate to a form that the vaccine is less effective against.   We are so close to controlling this pathogen but human nature and failure to be able to delay gratification, and put off travel and group activities, is leading to a potential fourth surge of COVID-19 related illness and death.

My cell phone rang twice with patient calls on the 60-minute trip southward. The first was from a patient whose adult children came to visit him. His unvaccinated eighteen-year-old grandson was with them. After spending four days together they received a phone call that the grandson’s girlfriend was sick and tested positive for COVID-9. The next two calls were from patients who had been to two different Passover seders. One was outdoors, the other indoors with 20 plus guests. Both had been exposed to a person who called the next day to say they were COVID-19 positive.

I watched the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an experienced infectious disease and critical care physician, beg Americans to wear a mask and social distance while she was brought to tears by the thought of another wave of illness, death and prolonged restrictions. I listened to the President of the United States plead with state governments to maintain mask restrictions a bit longer to save lives and control the disease. I listened to the Vatican public relations division discuss not holding an Easter Service in St. Peters Square this coming weekend and wondered what it will take to convince people that we just are not ready to resume full activities.

The Governor of Florida is correct. Deaths are down due to vaccinations and the elderly staying home. I suspect if he tracks the cell phones of the tourists and spring breakers to their home states and countries three weeks from now, he will see an increase in hospitalizations and deaths.  Florida’s economy may boom but we certainly are maintaining it at the cost of illness and death elsewhere.

An Oral Medication To Stop Coronavirus?

Researchers have produced a pill that, taken twice a day at the 800 mg dosage for five consecutive days, seems to stop SARS-CoV-2 virus from multiplying and causing clinical symptoms. The work is quite early and needs to proceed through stage 2 and 3 clinical trial phases before it can be presented to the FDA for emergency utilization authorization.

The drug is called molnupirvir. It could be taken in the first few days of infection to prevent advancement to severe disease much like Tamiflu is used with influenza. In initial human trials, the virus was eliminated from the nasopharynx of 49 infected individuals.

Wendy Painter, MD, of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics presented the data at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. The drug works by interfering with the virus’s mode of reproducing and mutating – overloading the virus with replication and mutation until the virus burns itself out and can no longer make effective viral copies.

Their method of testing the drug was to administer it, or a placebo, to humans who were infected and in the early stages of symptomatic disease. They used three different dosages and swabbed the participants’ nose and cultured for the virus at different times during the experiment.

At day 5, after the onset of symptoms, there was no detectable infectious virus in the nasopharynx of participants who were treated with molnupiravir. Dr. Painter reminded everyone that the next test will be given to patients who are actually sick with COVID-19 and see if it works. This preliminary data should encourage us that when scientists are given the time and resources, they solve problems. Imagine in the near future a vaccinated society that has at its disposal accurate and reliable quick tests for COVID-19 and the availability of a pill taken twice a day, for five days, to prevent the disease from becoming severe and requiring hospitalization.