News / Health

Cyclical Blood Pressure Patterns Could Offer Critical Health Clues

Cyclical Blood Pressure Patterns Could Offer Critical Health Cluesi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Shelley Schlender
December 12, 2012 7:25 PM
Sixty years ago, when medical researcher Franz Halberg first proposed the unorthodox idea that our bodies respond to the natural cycles of day and night, not the hours on a clock, his fellow scientists scoffed. Today, circadian rhythms, as Dr. Halberg called these natural cycles, are accepted as a fundamental biological process, and their discovery made the Romanian-born physician famous. Now, he is challenging medical orthodoxy again by suggesting that cyclical patterns in our blood pressure offer clues about risks to our health. From Minneapolis, Minnesota, VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Shelley Schlender
Cyclical patterns in our blood pressure offer clues about risks to our health, according to a medical researcher who first proposed the unorthodox idea that our bodies respond to the natural cycles of day and night, not the hours on a clock.

Although his fellow scientists scoffed at the time, 60 years later circadian rhythms, as Dr. Franz Halberg called these natural cycles, are accepted as a fundamental biological process, and their discovery made the Romanian-born physician famous.

Now, Halberg is challenging medical orthodoxy again.

At a clinic that monitors sleeping habits, Suzi Knowles’ weekly schedule includes two day shifts and two night shifts. While she loves her job, she’s often sleepy.

"The switching back and forth isn’t a good fit for anyone, I don’t think," Knowles says. "I can probably fall asleep within 20 minutes at any point.”

Franz Halberg, 93, is again challenging medical orthodoxy by suggesting that cyclical patterns in our blood pressure offer clues about risks to our health.Franz Halberg, 93, is again challenging medical orthodoxy by suggesting that cyclical patterns in our blood pressure offer clues about risks to our health.
x
Franz Halberg, 93, is again challenging medical orthodoxy by suggesting that cyclical patterns in our blood pressure offer clues about risks to our health.
Franz Halberg, 93, is again challenging medical orthodoxy by suggesting that cyclical patterns in our blood pressure offer clues about risks to our health.
Sleepiness isn’t the only hazard. According to Halberg, now a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, many studies indicate shift workers have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

Halberg says blood pressure readings could help sort out which workers are at risk and which ones are not. But he says the typical annual blood pressure reading at the doctor’s office offers too little information.

“One reading can tell you that you are still alive, and that’s a good thing to know,” Halberg says.

To know more, says the 93-year-old scientist, you need to measure more often.

Most doctors recommend measuring a healthy person’s blood pressure at least once every year or two.

Halberg checks his every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, every single day. He says these half-hour measurements, done for at least one week, provide important information about his health, including his patterns of long-term peaks and valleys and sudden spikes that seem to correspond to strain and stress. 

But right now, doing this is not easy. Halberg’s own day-in, day-out monitoring device includes a blood pressure cuff, strapped around his upper arm and a pump in his trouser pocket to inflate the cuff for the blood pressure reading. After years of wearing the cumbersome contraption, he hardly notices it.

“I have been wearing it now for 25 years," Halberg says. "And so did [do] a number of my associates around the world.”

D.W. Wilson, of Durham University's School of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Health, is one of dozens of scientists who wear blood pressure cuffs as part of Franz Halberg’s research. (Courtesy D.W. Wilson)D.W. Wilson, of Durham University's School of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Health, is one of dozens of scientists who wear blood pressure cuffs as part of Franz Halberg’s research. (Courtesy D.W. Wilson)
x
D.W. Wilson, of Durham University's School of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Health, is one of dozens of scientists who wear blood pressure cuffs as part of Franz Halberg’s research. (Courtesy D.W. Wilson)
D.W. Wilson, of Durham University's School of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Health, is one of dozens of scientists who wear blood pressure cuffs as part of Franz Halberg’s research. (Courtesy D.W. Wilson)
Dozens of scientists have sent Halberg a week’s worth of their blood pressure readings, measured every half hour. Some have done this for decades. One for nearly 50 years.

“A distinguished senior professor writes that when he doesn’t have the cuff, he feels naked,” Halberg says.

Halberg calls these researchers test pilots, discovering what long-term monitoring can reveal about health and natural rhythms that range from a few minutes, to months, to decades.

This can be especially important, he says, for people who work shifts that require them to be awake and alert at night.

People like radio announcer Len Houle who has regular hours most of the week, but on Fridays leaves for work at four in the morning.

“It kind of wipes me out a little bit. I’m kind of wasted.” But even worse, he says, was when he was on call at night to provide computer support. “I was usually woken up in the middle of the night, signing onto a computer, and fixing a problem, and then required to go back to bed, which really didn’t work.”

Many shift workers say that it’s easier when they have a consistent schedule so for 10 years, bartender Molly Savory’s been working past midnight, then sleeping late the next morning.

“I’m a night person," she says. "I like to work into the evening hours.” 

According to University of Colorado math professor Homer Ellis, he’s done research all night and slept until almost noon for more than 30 years. He feels working a typical 9-to-5 day shift would mess him up.

“I wouldn’t do very well," Ellis says. "No. My schedule fits me.”

But according to Ken Wright, director of a University of Colorado Sleep Lab, feeling good about an unusual shift doesn’t guarantee that it’s healthy.

“We truly don’t understand what makes one person more vulnerable for one negative health outcome versus another," Wright says, "and that’s really a hot area of research that we’re trying to understand.”

Wright says that Franz Halberg has contributed tremendously to understanding the connections between body rhythms and diseases, ranging from heart attack and stroke to diabetes, obesity and cancer.

And while Wright prefers to measure things like blood hormone levels and brain wave patterns, he concedes that more frequent blood pressure tests and closer analysis of the readings could lead to new discoveries.

“I think the science has to drive the questions," Wright says. "But the tools allow us to ask questions.”

Back in Minnesota, Halberg says that one answer is ready and waiting.

“Blood pressure is a life-long [stress] test," he says. "It tells you when you are unhappy, but it also tells you when you are at the risk of heart disease.”

In time, Halberg says, blood pressure monitors will be as cheap and as small as a wristwatch. When that day comes, he says long-term monitoring will be commonplace, and health throughout the world will benefit.

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violencei
X
Lenny Ruvaga
November 27, 2014 7:05 PM
The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid