Q: Lately my blood pressure has been really high, so I started taking medication, which seems to be working. But I think the cause is stress, since my diet is good and I work out regularly. What else can I do to lower my blood pressure and maybe even stop taking the meds? — Kevin H., Davenport, La.
A: Just recognizing that you need to take steps to reduce your stress response is really commendable. According to the American Psychological Association, around 24 percent of adults say that they experience extreme stress and identify their main stressors as money and work; this year, family, personal health/health of a family member and the economy rounded out the top six triggers. Fortunately, there's a lot you can do to improve your stress responses.
If you're open to new ideas, let us introduce you to some ancient arts that have astoundingly groundbreaking benefits: yoga, meditation and tai chi. You'll love them.
An interesting new study analyzed how these sorts of mind-body interventions can change your stress response on a molecular level! The researchers, writing in Frontiers of Immunology, looked at 18 different studies that covered about 850 subjects over 11 years and found that mind-body interventions "reverse the molecular reactions in our DNA which cause ill-health and depression."
Seems mind-body interventions are turning genes on and off (epigenetic changes), and that affects the biological makeup of the body, the brain and the immune system. It also reduces chronic inflammation associated with stress — inflammation that ups your risk for all kinds of diseases, from cancer to diabetes.
So if you want to reverse your feelings of stress, anger, insomnia, frustration and body-related discomfort like muscle- and headache, and undo the epigenetic changes that amp up your stress and increase your risk for a wide variety of health woes, check out the meditation guides at www.sharecare.com and find a local tai chi or yoga instructor. Om-m-m my, you will see a difference in your outlook and your future.
Q: I keep hearing about the goodness of vitamin D, but what should I eat more of? Are supplements useful or not? — Katie G., Boston
A: In truth, vitamin D is more hormone than vitamin! A hormone regulates the activity of certain cells or organs and often works on more than one physical process: D maintains blood levels of calcium and phosphorus by enhancing absorption of D in food and supplements through the small intestines. And D regulates over 200 genes, as well as blood pressure in the kidney and blood glucose in the pancreas, while keeping abnormal cells from multiplying in breast and colon tissue. D also appears to help regulate the immune system.
There are two important forms of vitamin D you should know about — ergocalciferol (vitamin D-2), which is made by plants, and cholecalciferol (vitamin D-3), which is made by your skin in response to exposure to sunlight. (D-3 is first converted by the liver and then the kidneys before becoming biologically active calcitriol in your body.) A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says D-3 is what you want to make sure you get enough of.
The researchers say: "Those who consume D-3 through fish (we like salmon and ocean trout) or vitamin D-3-containing supplements are twice as likely to raise their vitamin D status than when consuming vitamin D-2 rich foods such as mushrooms, vitamin D-2-fortified bread or vitamin D-2 supplements."
Your move: Get 10 minutes of exposure to sunlight daily (that's enough to crank up the D-3 machine to ample levels) without sunscreen; then put it on! Enjoy D-3-packin' foods like fermented soy and supplemented functional foods like almond and walnut milk. Aim to get the recommended 600 IU of vitamin D-3 a day: Most of you will need a D-3 supplement. Your goal is to reach a blood level of 35 to 80 ng/ml; ask your doc for a blood test.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at email@example.com.