News / Health

Cyclical Blood Pressure Patterns Could Offer Critical Health Clues

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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Tour Will Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

US secretary of state to visit 5 countries in the Middle East, South Asia in bid to strengthen economic and security ties, ease concerns over deal with Tehran More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs