From “Chicken Wing” to high blood pressure in 40 years flat

woman eating a salad

When I was a teen, the last thing I worried about was my weight. I was so scrawny I earned the nickname “Chicken Wing” from a neighbor.

Even though soda and store-bought snacks were a staple at our house (it was the 1980s after all) … most evenings dinner was cooked at home and eaten as a family at the table.

We ate so much salad and baked chicken when I was a kid. I guess I came by my “Chicken Wing” nickname honestly… as they say, you are what you eat.

And since we’ve been “staying at home” during the pandemic, I’ve taken to eating the same simple salad my mother made on an almost daily basis. I suppose it brings me comfort.

The baked chicken… not so much.

Growing up eating this way, I never really developed the taste for the overly salted fast food that’s so readily available to kids these days.

And as I’ve started leaving the house more, I’ve noticed the fast food lines are longer than ever. I have to believe that hamburgers, chicken nuggets and french fries bring comfort to many… much the same way my mom’s salad does for me.

But with clearly different consequences

It wasn’t until after I had my firstborn that I started to struggle with my weight. It bounced up and down for years. At first, it was just 10 pounds.

So, I’d adjust my eating habits and lose the 10. Only to loosen the reigns on my diet and then gain back 20. The older I got, the more I realized that, for me, any weight lost today resulted in extra weight gained tomorrow.

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis — an inflammatory, autoimmune thyroid problem — that I realized there was more at play than my sheer lack of willpower.

I realized hormones and diet were causing my struggles and that it was time to get serious. That meant adopting a new way of eating. And since the body mistakes thyroid hormone for invading gluten molecules, bread, pasta and pastry were immediately off the table.

Not unlike the kids today who have developed a taste for fast food, I never met a cookie I didn’t like. Mom never came home from the grocery store without them. Pecan Sandies and Chips Ahoy were never in short supply in our house.

And growing up, Sunday was always spaghetti night

Kicking gluten was hard. I’d have extended periods of success then I’d fall off the wagon. The more I bounced back and forth from gluten-free to gluten-full, the more my weight bounced up and down… right along with my thyroid hormone, energy levels and blood pressure.

Most of my life I had low blood pressure. But as I got into my mid-40s, I started to notice my BP creeping up lock, stock and barrel with weight gain. The higher my weight climbed, the higher my blood pressure went. I’d pull my diet back together, kick the gluten to the curb and as I lost weight, my blood pressure went down.

Given my family’s heart history, hypertension was clearly a symptom that scared me. And I definitely did not want to add BP medications — which both my mother and grandmother took — to my daily routine… especially considering high blood pressure is a condition that can more often than not be controlled through a change in daily health habits.

I recently wrote to you about an increase in strokes in younger adults diagnosed with COVID-19

According to recently released information, even only mildly symptomatic versions of COVID-19 may be causing strokes in adults in their 30s and 40s.

Outside of this pandemic, stroke risk for those under 55 was already rising… even as strokes and stroke death risk for older people declines. COVID-19 (as it seems to do) only exacerbated an already growing problem.

After analyzing the research, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) attributed the increased stroke risk of younger folks to risk factors like obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure… conditions usually associated with older adults… and ones that — as I mentioned earlier — can be modified.

Clearly, attention to diet and lifestyle needs to start at a younger age

But just how young?

Well, alarming new research from the CDC estimates that nearly 800,000 kids ages 12 to 17 have high blood pressure based on the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s most common in kids who are obese.

And high blood pressure often goes unrecognized in the pediatrician’s office because it’s not always checked.

To add insult to injury, hypertension at such a young age puts kids at risk for heart disease and stroke later in life.

And children with persistent hypertension may develop thicker arteries by as early as age 30!

Since high blood pressure is often asymptomatic in kids, parents and grandparents should watch for signs such as headaches and blurry vision. And, very rarely, kids will experience chest pain.

The good news is that hypertension in children, young adults and even seniors doesn’t have to be a lifelong condition.

The best way to have healthy blood pressure and normal blood flow is by maintaining a healthy weight.

That starts by eating an anti-inflammatory diet of fresh, whole foods including healthy protein, only 100% whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables, and avoiding simple (and sugar-filled) carbs like bread, pasta and pastries.

Just this one step can make a huge difference in maintaining healthy blood pressure because it eliminates the one thing known to cause weight gain and raise blood pressure: salty, packaged, processed fast food.

If epidemiologists are correct and COVID-19 is going to stay with us for a while, it makes sense to start incorporating these new lifestyle changes ASAP… because data indicates those with cardiovascular disease have a 13.2% chance of dying from it.

Those with diabetes have a 9.2% chance…

And those with high blood pressure have an 8.4% chance.

All conditions that are aggravated by excess weight.

For those without an underlying risk factor, your chances of dying from COVID-19 falls to 0.9%.