June 14, 2014 at 1:00 am

To Your Health

Both blood pressure numbers are important

Dear Dr. Roach: Iíve always heard that at older ages, it doesnít matter how high the first number of a blood pressure reading is; itís bound to rise with age. My blood pressure is 185/70, and my doctor wants me to go on blood pressure medicine. My second number is fine.

Why is he making a fuss? I am 67. I donít like taking drugs.

W.S.

Dear W.S.: You have heard wrong. Both numbers of a blood pressure reading are significant. If either is higher than normal, it indicates high blood pressure. It is true that systolic pressure, the first number, rises with age. And it is true that the second number, diastolic pressure, tends to plateau after age 50.

However, a higher-than-normal systolic or diastolic pressure constitutes hypertension, high blood pressure. The first number is the pressure imparted to blood when the heart pumps it into the aorta. It takes a great deal of pressure to circulate blood through all the body arteries.

The second number is the pres≠sure in the heart as it fills with blo≠od. Normal pressure is less than 120/80. High blood pressure is 140/90 and above. Numbers between those two pressures are called prehypertension, lower than actual high blood pressure.

You have high blood pressure, hypertension. You doctor made a fuss because uncontrolled high blood pressure causes artery hardening, leads to strokes and heart attacks, puts the kidneys out of action, adds to congestive heart failure and promotes dementia.

Still think your pressure is OK?

If you are overweight, weight loss brings pressure down. So does shunning salt. Itís not the saltsha≠ker on the table that pushes people over the recommended daily limits (1,500 mg of sodium), but it is commercial foods. Become a reader of the sodium content of the foods you buy. Potassium low≠ers blood pressure. Potassium-rich foods are baked potatoes, banan≠as, orange juice, peas, beans, milk, spinach, squash, watermelon, figs and cantaloupe. Be as physically active as your doctor allows.

If your pressure doesnít fall, then you have to resort to medicines. Eight large drug families, yielding more than 57 different medicines, give you a wide choice to bring your pressure down without side effects.

Dear Dr. Roach: I have been using MSG on my food as a flavor enhancement about all of my life. Some of my health-conscious friends have stated that using MSG is like putting ďrat poisonĒ on your food. I respond by saying putting salt on your food is worse than putting MSG on it. Does MSG deserve its bad reputation?

K.T.

Dear K.T.: Some people have a sensitivity to monosodium glutamate, an amino acid normally pre≠sent in food and which is used as a flavor enhancer. Symptoms can include headache, muscle aches, nausea and more. Itís well-absorb≠ed in liquid form, such as soups, especially those in Asian eateries.

If you donít have a sensitivity to MSG, it is a very safe food additive. It does have some sodium, but in the usual amounts used, does not deserve its reputation.

Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.