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Independent health store advice on healthy blood pressure

Looking for advice on natural health and wellbeing? Your local independent health store can offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise. This month we speak to Steve Desborough, a qualified nutritionist and director of the Food For Thought stores in Guildford, Kingston and Kew.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a health issue that we are asked about regularly at Food For Thought as many people are keen to find out natural ways to lower their blood pressure. It’s also a personal interest of mine as I am hypertensive and have been investigating ways to reduce my own blood pressure naturally, through diet and supplements.

Blood pressure is measured in ‘millimetres of mercury’ (mmHg) and is presented as two numbers: systolic and diastolic. Systolic is the pressure when the blood is pumping through the arteries and diastolic is when the heart is at rest. So, if your blood pressure reading is 120/80mmHg, your blood pressure is ‘120 over 80’.

It is important to maintain a healthy blood pressure level as high blood pressure can increase your risk of cardiovascular problems such as a heart attack or stroke. Generally speaking, a healthy blood pressure reading should be around 120/80.

Whole foods diet

Whenever customers come into our stores seeking advice, we always ask them a specific set of questions in line with the guidelines of the Health Food Institute (HFI). So, we would always ask them if they are on any medication, whether they have been to their GP about their health issue and whether they have been given a proper diagnosis. If they are taking medication, we always make it very clear that they must not stop taking it and must let their GP know about any natural health protocol they are planning to follow.

In the case of high blood pressure, there is often a correlation with high cholesterol, so I would recommend that the person gets their cholesterol levels checked. In terms of diet, I would recommend following a whole foods diet containing plenty of vegetables, lots of fruit, fish, poultry, nuts, possibly low dairy and low in sodium. There is a particular diet plan known as the DASH diet, which is specifically aimed at lowering high blood pressure, so I would recommend that people look into it. It’s general protocol to keep the salt levels low in your diet because I do think we consume too much. Eating a wide range of different fruits and vegetables is important because they are a good source of polyphenols and flavonoids. These are rich in antioxidants and are helpful for the venous system, blood flow and blood vessel integrity. Blackberries, blueberries and red currants are particularly good sources.

Foods that should be avoided include refined foods, processed foods and foods that are high in salt, fat and sugar. Both caffeine and alcohol should only be consumed in moderation.

There are some key vitamins and minerals which can help with blood pressure, but it’s very important to check first with your GP if you are taking any medication. This is because some types of medication modify how certain minerals work in the body.

Vitamins, minerals and supplements

The following vitamins, minerals and supplements are the ones that I have been taking for my own hypertension. I have successfully managed to reduce my blood pressure by following this protocol. Firstly, I take magnesium, which is critical for heart function as it stimulates the heart muscle to beat more regularly. It also dilates blood vessels to encourage blood flow and is beneficial for stress. I also take hawthorn, which is regarded as the main cardiovascular herb. It helps to strengthen the aorta, which is the main heart artery, and it regulates the potassium pump into the heart. I also take arginine, an amino acid that promotes nitric oxide, which helps to expand the blood vessels. In my own case I think that my blood pressure issues are linked to poor circulation, so this is an important nutrient. I’m also looking to source some grapeseed extract, which is important for circulatory and vascular health. Another supplement I take is co-enzyme Q10, which is critical in all areas of heart disease, from angina to blood pressure. Other supplements that may help include garlic, omega-3 essential fatty acids and bilberry or blueberry extracts.

Lastly, in terms of lifestyle advice, maintaining a healthy weight is important for healthy blood pressure. If the person smokes, then they really should consider quitting. Regular exercise is important too, but always consult with your GP before taking up a fitness programme. Some people who have high blood pressure also have issues with stress and anxiety, so any steps that can be taken to reduce stress will go a long way towards helping too.

Food For Thought

Food For Thought is a long-established chain of health food stores which stocks a wide variety of organic health foods and natural health products as well as vitamins, minerals and supplements.

The two Food For Thought stores are based in Kingston and Guildford, while the third, Oliver’s Wholefood Store, is based in Kew.

There were originally five stores in total, all of which were established in the early 1980s. By 2008, there were two stores left, in Kingston and Guildford, and the original owner was looking to retire and sell the business. This coincided with a time when current owner Alan Martin and his business partner Rob Steidle were looking for a career change.

The pair were working in TV on Gillian McKeith’s You Are What You Eat TV show, but were looking for a new challenge. After purchasing the Food for Thought Stores, Alan and Rob set about repositioning them to appeal more to their local communities, working with the local Korean community in Kingston and forging partnerships with the local councils.

Alan says: “Our motto is: ‘We know what our customers want because they are the same things that we want.’” He adds: “The other key to our success is our staff members. Some of the people who joined us when we bought the business back in 2008 are still with us. Knowledge, experience and professionalism are all very important to us.”

The acquisition of Oliver’s Wholefoods Store took place last year and Alan and Rob have worked at revitalising the store, introducing new products as well as a range of healthy sandwiches and snacks aimed at visitors to the nearby Kew Gardens.

All three stores have been rejuvenated and Alan and his team have received great feedback from customers.

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