Health & Well-being14th May 2014

The Silent Killer

A recent report identified that deaf people are more at risk of killer diseases, here Jeanann gives some advice to reduce risk

by Jeanann Doyle

Irish - born, I am a qualified nutritional scientist and currently training to become a dietitian in the UK. I have had a severe-to-profound deafness since the age of 4 and rely on my hearing aids and lipreading for communication. I recently came upon the, “Sick of it Report” by the SignHealth Charity for the Deaf and was alarmed to read about the health of Deaf people in the UK in comparison to the rest of the people in the country. Deaf people are more at risk of certain health-related diseases in comparison to the rest of the population.

Poor access to the healthcare system seems to be the main barrier to allowing deaf people to take control of their health which highlights the importance for deaf awareness training among all health professionals. I have experienced the above issues in healthcare services and understand this from the heart. I am extremely passionate about empowering other deaf people in life as well as my studies in nutrition and health. In this article I write about one of the health-related illness mentioned in this report; high blood pressure and how we can make simple changes in our diet to reduce of risks of heart disease and stroke.

"High blood pressure is one of the major causes of heart attacks and strokes. Deaf people are twice as likely as everyone else to have high blood pressure and not know it."

- SignHealth (The Deaf Health Charity).                                                                                                        

So what’s going on in the UK?

FACT: Sadly, in the UK, cardiovascular disease caused 50,000 premature deaths in 2010 and having high blood pressure is a major risk factor.

FACT: £30 billion a year is what cardiovascular disease costs the UK economy.

FACT: By the time you finish reading this, someone will have died from a heart attack in the UK.

FACT: Around 5 Million of us in the UK are walking around with high blood pressure and don’t even know it!

FACT: 26% of women and 30% men have high blood pressure in the UK.

FACT: Even though deaf people are twice as likely to have high blood pressure, those who have been diagnosed are 3 times more likely to still not have it under control and less likely to be on medication as the rest of the population.

This may all sound like awful news but hold tough, here is the good news: it is preventable.

Blood pressure… hypertension… Cardiovascular disease…I’m confused…

Let’s explain what blood pressure is all about. Firstly, arteries are the tubes that carry blood rich in oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body so we function fully. Blood pressure is the pace at which our blood flows through our arteries. If we don’t keep our heart healthy, our blood pressure can become too high and we can get hypertension. This is because the blood is trying to push harder around our damaged arteries known as coronary heart disease (CHD) and eventually leads to a stroke or a heart attack. Therefore, it is so important to have blood pressure checked. Cardiovascular disease is a group of diseases relating to the heart and circulation of blood such as those mentioned above; CHD, stroke and heart attack.

Stephen’s Story

Stephen who is deaf talks about how he nearly suffered a heart attack and how he has changed his life for the better through diet and exercise to protect his heart. This helpful BSL clip has been produced by the British Heart Foundation.

Know your numbers!                                                                   

Blood pressure readings have 2 numbers; (a) one on the top called systolic which is when our heart beats to contract and (b) one on the bottom called diastolic which is when the heart relaxes in between beats. Normal blood pressure for everyone should be around 140/90. If we have Type 2 Diabetes or have had a previous heart attack or stroke then our blood pressure should be around 130/80 due to a higher risk of developing heart disease. Everyone over the age of 40 should have their blood pressure checked as well as their risk of getting heart disease. The best and most accurate way of finding out about our blood pressure is to have it measured at your local GP practice. Each year in the UK, Stroke causes an alarming 41,000 deaths and heart attacks cause 103,000 deaths. More than a quarter of adults in the UK have high blood pressure and almost half are not receiving treatment for it. So, let’s get out there, spread the word, get our blood pressure checked and help reduce these alarming figures!

How can I lower my blood pressure?

We can lower our blood pressure by cutting down on salt, caffeine and alcohol as these all contribute to high blood pressure. We should have more fresh fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy balanced diet as they are a good source of potassium which has the opposite effect to salt on your blood pressure. Also, by becoming more active, losing weight and quitting smoking. Nearly a quarter of adults in the UK are obese. Carrying extra weight means we need more oxygen and nutrients delivered in our blood which increases blood pressure. Smoking hardens and narrows our arteries making blood pump faster around the body while exercise allows more oxygen into the body for a healthier heart to do its job right!

How much salt is enough?!

Our body does actually need some sodium (90% comes from salt) for muscle contraction, nerves and to maintain normal blood pressure. At present, in the UK, the average intake of salt in the diet is a staggering 8.1g (1 and a half level teaspoons). The target should be no more than 6g a day for adults (1 level teaspoon), 3g for children (half a level teaspoon) and babies should have less than 1g a day as their kidneys can’t cope with more than this. Would you believe that in fact, as a nation, 183,000,000kg of salt is consumed each year. To get a better picture; we are talking 240,000,000 of 750g table salt containers or 18,000 London double decker buses!

Where does all the salt come from?

75% of salt in our foods comes from processed foods. Yes, that means canned soups, ready-made meals, salted nuts, pizzas, crisps, packet soups, sauces, the list goes on! There’s also hidden sources of salt such as in bread, breakfast cereals (yes, Special K included) and even in sweet foods such as cakes, biscuits and pastries (as well as being full of nasty sugars and fat). 15% is found naturally in foods such as cheese, shellfish and meats such as ham and pork. 10% is added in cooking or as table salt which could be avoided easily!

How can I cut down on my salt?

There are simple ways of cutting own on the amount of salt we have on a day to day basis.

By Limiting:

  • Salted snacks such as Bombay mix, crisps and salted nuts
  • Sausages, pate and cured meats such as salami
  • Smoked fish (herring, mackerel and trout) bacon and ham
  • Pickles, poppadums and chutneys
  • All types of cheeses
  • Stock cubes in cooking, soups, sauces and risotto

When cooking, there are lots of tips for adding flavor instead of using salt. Watch any chef programme and you will see lots of different flavourings being used to marinade food. There is no reason why less salt will make your meal less delicious!

Replace salt with:

  • Fresh garlic
  • Pepper Lemon Juice
  • Vinegar/rice vinegar
  • Spices Fresh/dried Herbs

How to look out for salt when shopping?

This is a brilliant way of cutting down on salt! Firstly, if we look at the back of a packet of crisps we see “GDA” but what does this mean? GDA stands for Adult Guideline Daily Amount and helps us make sense of nutrition information of that food.  So how much salt should we have a day? Use this card below for when you go food shopping to help you buy foods that are low in salt. You can follow these easy steps!

1.     Check the back of the food packet for nutritional information

2.     Read the “per 100g” column only

3.     If “salt” reads under 1.5g then this is a good option to buy

4.     If the “salt” reads over 1.5g then this food should be avoided

5.     The same instructions can be followed for sugars, fat and saturated fats

You can use this link to print off one for yourself to keep in your purse/wallet for the next big shop!

If you’re looking for useful websites and apps, it can be tricky choosing the right ones that will help you make healthier choices, as there are so many out there! Here are a few popular apps to get you started: Healthy Heart Recipe Finder (British Heart Foundation), Foodswitch UK (scan the barcode of a food item and it will show you healthier alternatives) and My Fitness Pal (tracks calorie intake and fitness levels). Useful websites for more information include British Heart Foundation, American Heart Association, British Nutrition Foundation, Healthy Eating Live Well (NHS Choices) and Change for Life.

High blood pressure is a silent killer as there are no obvious symptoms, hence the name of this article. Remember to think twice about foods high in salt, get active, aim for a healthy weight, drink less alcohol and quit smoking if you haven’t already.

Sources for this article:
British Heart Foundation (2014)
“Sick of it Report” by SignHealth The Deaf Health Charity (2014)
NHS choices “Having too much salt, your survival guide”
Food Standards Agency
Joint British Society Guidelines (2014)
“Salt: The Facts” NHS Choices (2013)
Salt and Health Report by SACN (2003)
Department of Health

If you would like to know more information about nutrition and diet for your health, you can contact Jeanann at

Article by Jeanann Doyle

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Health & Well-being

14th May 2014