By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Does this sound like anyone you know? Sarah is a busy mother and wife who also holds down a job. Five years ago, when she turned 49, her blood pressure started to rise. When it reached 180/ 90, her doctor put her on blood pressure medication.
The first medication lowered her blood pressure a little but it stayed above 155, so her doctor added another blood pressure medication. The second one knocked off 5 more points but still, the readings just would not drop below 140. Sarah dieted to lose those last 20 pounds she had been carrying for most of her life. Still, even that didn't budge her blood pressure numbers.
Sarah gave up. And though he didn't want to admit it to Sarah, her doctor gave up too. He had tried and, besides, the reality is that there was only so much time he could give to just one patient, he rationalized to himself.
Her doctor explained to her that, in many people, blood pressure stubbornly remains high, despite adding one, two, three, even five blood pressure medications.
Her doctor didn't explain to Sarah that she is not alone. Her situation is surprisingly common. She is one of the estimated millions of us who take multiple medications to control blood pressure or other conditions, a phenomenon known as "polypharmacy".
What makes high blood pressure stubbornly "stick" at a high number? What have our bodies forgotten how to do as we age that they used to do naturally when we were younger? And what do cashews have to do with it?
The Trick Your Body Forgets How to Do As You Age That Leads to Drug-Resistant High Blood Pressure
Have you ever stood up quickly and felt light-headed? Then, a few seconds later, you feel steady again. Well, what was going on inside your body is that tiny receptors tried to adjust your blood pressure as you stood up but they didn't make the adjustment fast enough.
These tiny receptors are called baroreceptors. Barorecptors are not as well known as other parts of your body involved in regulating blood pressure such as your arteries and your heart but they are just as important.
You see, without baroreceptors, you are doomed to have uncontrolled blood pressure.
Most people believe that blood pressure stays constant throughout the day but it does not. Your blood pressure changes every hour, every minute, as your body responds to different challenges.
When your blood pressure goes up, sometimes way up, your baroreceptors sense this. They then smoothly bring your blood pressure back in line with a healthy state. This smooth coordination goes on uninterrupted through our youth.
But then we age. And as we age, so do our baroreceptors. They lose their fine-tuned ability to sense when our blood pressure is out of whack. They lose what scientists call their "sensitivity".
Cashews Restore Baroreceptor Sensitivity
By now, many people know that nuts in general help to maintain your health as you age. Nuts, in general, are rich in fiber, minerals such as magnesium and folate, and vitamins.
But cashews have one special power that other nuts, even walnuts, cannot match. Cashews actually improve your baroreceptor sensitivity.
In 2006, a team of scientists from South Africa conducted an important series of experiments to test how different nuts affect our baroreceptors sensitivity.
The team, from North-West University compared cashews with walnuts. They assembled 62 people, all of whom had metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a collection of bad health conditions that typically run together, including high blood pressure.
They separated the participants into 3 groups and fed them no nuts at all or walnuts or cashews for 8 weeks.
At the end of the 8 weeks, the scientists took many measurements and compared them to the same numbers taken before the experiment, including body mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and baroreceptor sensitivity.
In most of the measures, walnuts and cashews improved the participants measurements.
But when it came to baroreceptor sensitivity, only cashews improved the measurements. Walnuts in fact made baroreceptor sensitivity worse.
This was a shocking finding.
As the study concluded: "The significant improvements in [baroreceptor sensitivity] obtained by a diet rich in cashew nuts underline the beneficial cardiovascular effects of nuts. However, the opposite result was obtained with a diet rich in walnuts."
Cashews --- Are Blanched Better Than Roasted?
All the studies that have looked at nuts say that you should always prefer the "whole nut, without salt and preferably without blanching. The reason is that most of the health benefits of nuts are found in the outer layer of the nut.