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Friday, 20 December 2013

New Elder Blood Pressure Guidelines (and Chicken)

On Wednesday, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) upended 30 years of medical advice by publishing new hypertension (high blood pressure) guidelines from a committee of 17 academcis that apply to people age 60 and older.

For 30 years, conventional medical wisdom has been that most people (and particularly elders) should strive for a blood pressure reading of less than 140/90, that anything higher, according to the new report

”leads to myocardial infarction, stroke, renal failure, and death if not detected early and treated appropriately.”

And so tens of millions of Americans take one or more drugs to control blood pressure above that magic number, 140/90 which describes a majority of Americans older t han 55. Here's a chart about that from the Wall Street Journal from data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):


The new number below which drug treatment is no longer recommended is 150/90. That is, the diastolic (bottom) number remains the same; the systolic (top) number is increased by 10.

As you can imagine, there is some controversy about this announcement. It comes mainly because so much progress has been made in controlling hypertension with drugs for the past several decades.

”The old blood pressure targets made a huge difference in patients’ health, said Dr. Marvin Moser, a hypertension expert [quoted in The New York Times], who was the chairman of the first blood pressure guidelines committee in 1977 and a member of the six committees after that, but not of the most recent one.

“'The thing about hypertension is that it is a dull disease, but the results of treatment are spectacular,' he said. The incidence of strokes has fallen by 70 percent since 1972, and heart failure rates have fallen more than 50 percent.

“'It used to be that every third or fourth hospital bed had someone with hypertension in it,' Dr. Moser said. 'Today it is very rare to find someone with malignant hypertension' — that is, dangerously high and uncontrolled blood pressure.”

So if your systolic blood pressure reading falls between 140 and 150 and you take medication for it, maybe you can stop. Or maybe not. It would be foolish to not consult your physician first.

You can read the full report online at JAMA.


While we're discussing health issues, this new study from Consumer Reports is seriously important. The testers bought

”...316 chicken breasts from major national grocery chains, big-box stores, and regional markets in 26 states, and tested them for six bacteria...We tested 252 samples from conventionally produced chickens and 64 from brands that use no antibiotics in raising chickens, including 24 organic samples.

97% of the breasts we tested harbored bacteria that could make you sick.


While losing 30-plus pounds this year, I gave up all meat – beef, pork, lamb – not because I object all that much to eating them in moderation. The problem for me or anyone determined to lose weight is the high number of calories packed into small amounts of meat.

I would rather use those calories for a larger volume of food – vegetables, fruit, whole grains and fish – that fill my stomach more.

But I did eat chicken, in small amounts as in a salad, on occasion. But never again. Let's repeat that Consumer Reports' finding:


Here are some other frightening details from the report:

We found no significant difference in the average number of types of bacteria between conventional samples and those labeled “no antibiotics” or “organic.”

More than half of the chicken breasts were tainted with fecal contaminants (enterococcus and E. coli)

About half of our samples (49.7 percent) tested positive for at least one multidrug-resistant bacterium, and 11.5 percent carried two or more types of multidrug-resistant bacteria.

Even if you keep your kitchen very clean, you could still be exposed to illness-causing bacteria if you don’t cook the chicken to an internal temperature of 165° F. It’s vital that you check using a meat thermometer.

According to James R. Johnson, M.D., a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases and international medicine at the University of Minnesota, you don’t have to ingest a lot of bacteria to become sick. It’s possible that simply touching the plastic wrapping on the outside of chicken packages might expose you to harmful bacteria, Johnson says.

Our tests did not find brands or types of chicken breasts that had less bacteria than the rest.

Personally, I will never eat chicken again. Not at home and certainly not in a restaurant where I have no control of its handling and cooking.

You don't need to be a Consumer Reports subscriber to read the entire report here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Janet Thompson: A Horsehair Bridle

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


The chicken info is a bummer. We cut way down on meat, eat fish and chicken. Now I have to reevaluate our chicken habit. Oh well. I think I need to stop reading the news...

The chicken report is horrendous. Good reason to support Consumer Reports! Hardly any other entity would dare make this public.

I have eaten chicken all my life and have never gotten sick from eating it. We live in a world of bacteria no matter how clean we are. Our GI tracts are marvelously evolved to cope with the bacteria we harbor. Now I am not saying spoiled meat is not going to harm you nor am I saying that sometimes chicken wont make you very sick. But what I am saying is that if you don't eat everything that someone says is harmful to you, you won't have very much to eat. If you want to stop eating chicken or beef or all meat, wonderful. I will continue to cook and eat chicken.

After reading or hearing that report, millions of folks will never eat chicken again. I'm going to continue to eat canned chicken thinking that it has been processed at a high enough temp to kill off the bacteria.

Being an old farm girl, I am well aware that I am eating someone who had to die, a living sentient being, whom I could have easily become very fond of had I taken the time to get to know them. HOWEVER, I have pretty much given up meat unless I know how that animal was raised. I am so hoping that the health risks of eating factory farmed and processed meats will finally force a change in the industrialized food system. It is systematic torture in the pursuit of profit and affordable prices for meat. And if the morality doesn't strike a chord, I hope the health risks will. There are many more - not only from poultry, but pork and beef; check out articles on current "mad cow" risks, for example. Thank you for posting this - I'll stop ranting now.

The chicken recalls last summer also pointed out that proper cooking kills those bacteria. Chicken is certainly cheaper than beef, and a good source of meat protein. I'll continue to cook and eat it as I always have.

My blood pressure just went up a few notches reading about the ubiquitousness of tainted chicken :)

BTW, if you _are_ going to eat chicken, at least purchase poultry that has been air-chilled. It won't reduce your exposure to the antiobiotics fed to the chickens, but will drastically reduce the level of bacteria ontaminants on the meat.

I wonder how much bacteria is in other uncooked forms of protein?

About 43 years ago I worked in the Columbus, Georgia school system with a woman who had, years earlier, worked for a grocery chain. She would never eat chicken. Her reason was that the chicken came into the grocery crates and employees had to remove them from the crates, clean them off and repackage them for sale. She said anyone who had ever seen this would never eat chicken again either. I have eaten chicken regularly since then, but rarely without having her words run through my head.

I noticed that this report, unlike a previous one, noted that the name brand, factory farmed chicken had the most antibiotic resistant forms of bacteria. Many strains were resistant to multiple drugs. But the "organic" or cage free or free range chickens had fewer drug resistant bacteria though none were totally free of contamination. We buy our meats, including chicken, from a small meat market that buys from local farmers as much as possible. They get the chicken from Amish farmers east of here who use no hormones or prophylactic levels of antibiotics and raise their birds cage free. No food is totally free from contamination but we can mitigate our risks by the choices we make both as to how we prepare our food and where we get our food.

Sorry! I meant to say that this report did not note the distribution of drug resistant bacteria. Hope I didn't confuse anyone.

I have cut back on all meat consumption because of the calories and the assorted kinds of contamination. I don't have a high opinion of our national food production methods. We do have two meat markets for locally grown and processed meats in our farm community and they offer poultry as well. Their products are good. Still, I find my weight and my gut are happier eating mainly veggies and grains.

Does anyone know whether this level of chicken contamination differs from the level which would have been found when our great-grandparents were raising chickens on the farm? I'd like to know that before I get too excited. I had an uncle who was a chicken inspector. He said you don't want to know, so I'm thinking maybe it has always been like this.

I am not a vegetarian, but I am ashamed of that fact. Humans are nasty carnivores who kill other living creatures to eat them.

I'm with those who will continue to eat (a little) chicken, having handled it carefully and cooked it well. There are occasional outbreaks of illness traceable to contaminated chicken, but if things are as bad as CU says, I'd expect a LOT more incidences. The world's a dangerous place and life's a crap-shoot. It's good to know the facts, though, so informed decisions can be made.

I'll continue to buy and eat chicken and be very careful about cooking it to the proper temperature and not letting it sit out on the counter after dinner. I've never had food poisoning from a meal I cooked at home.

In terms of bacteria in other uncooked meat, eating ground meat--such as beef, chicken, or turkey--is much riskier than eating meat which hasn't been ground. Many government beef recalls involve enormous quantities of ground beef. No hamburgers for me!

As Lily hints, our standards of cleanliness were not as good in the 1940s and 1950s (when I raised, butchered, cleaned, and cooked chickens) as they are, today; so, I doubt that anything exciting has been "revealed". The "new" part of the news is the anti-biotic resistance of the bugs. Since there were no anti-biotic drugs to speak of in the 1940s, the situation hasn't changed drastically.

P.S. Also announced this week was that many people are wasting money on taking vitamin supplements. So, I'll stop taking vitamins (did that some time ago, actually) and keep eating chicken.

Who handles raw chicken and puts their fingers in their mouth without washing their hands first? Not moi! I also cook it until tender and I think that takes care of most of the problem.

What bothers me is how the chickens are raised. 'Cage free' doesn't mean 'free range', and chickens are being bred for more and more white/breast meat which tastes dry and flavorless to me. If we're going to eat them, let's at least give them a decent life for the 6 weeks they live, and not crowd them into dark sheds where they never see the sun or get to peck around in the grass. If you're a chicken, you want a bug now and again!

Phooey--I just lost my entire comment. Oh well, that's the way it goes. Suffice it to say, I intend to continue eating chicken while taking reasonable precautions. There's a lot of improvement needed in how food is produced and handled in this country (including how food animals are treated). Almost all food CAN become contaminated one way or another, but we can't stop eating.

Good for you, Ronni. I haven't eaten beef or pork in over 20 years, and very rarely have chicken or fish. My protein sources are more than sufficient -- peanuts, peanut butter (which I love), beans/legumes of all types, some cheddar cheese and lots of Greek yogurt. And now, at 77 years old, I weigh 5 pounds less than I did in high school and am in excellent health!

Keep up the good work. You won't regret it.

Aside from the fact that you can get all the protein you need from a vegetable, fruit and grain diet, no one has mentioned the effect raising all this meat has on our environment. Thirty percent of the earths land mass is devoted to raising animals. It has reduced the rainforests by 40%. Our rivers are becoming polluted by all the fecal material and urine that run off from the land. Meat consumption worldwide is supposed to increase substantially by 2020. The cost to our environmental concerns is staggering when one considers the raising, processing, feeding and mechanics necessary to raise this much meat in what I consider an unethical manner. It seems to be a general consensus that chicken is healthier and lower in fat than other meats and it does depend on the part of the chicken that you are eating. i.e. legs have more fat than an average steak. Also, last week on the news they said that chicken was going to be sent to China for processing because it is cheaper than doing it here....and as if we don't have enough problems with the safety of chicken, we have no way of overseeing what happens from a sanitary standpoint in China.We might want to look into that. I think we just need to remember that every time we eat meat that is raised via our mechanical methods we are taking in a whole host of antibiotic resistant bacteria, insecticides, and pesticides and a whole lot of corn!!..and then add the price to our environment world wide...not worth it to me. I quit eating meat a year and a half ago. Don't get me wrong, the smell of bacon sends me into a tail spin, but I just can't eat it on ethical grounds for the effects on so many other aspects of our lives.

Diane, my attitude also, and you put it out there more calmly than I would. My meat eating days ended 10 years ago. Iron was a problem for awhile. And I loved to cook savory dishes, most based on the European meat bases. Do I miss hamburgers, pastrami, turkey sando - yes, occasionally. But my energy level is substantially higher at 70 and my mind uncompromised and clear.

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