DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My blood pressure is 127/87, and it’s been like that for many years. My doctor always seemed satisfied with those numbers. Now he says I need to lower my pressure. Why? – F.B.

ANSWER: Do you mind if we get the systolic-diastolic bit explained first? The first number of a blood pressure reading is the systolic pressure, the pressure imparted to blood as the heart pumps it out into the body. The second number is diastolic pressure, the pressure in arteries between heartbeats. Both numbers are important, and if either is above normal, a person is said to have high blood pressure.

Blood pressure experts have now designated a systolic pressure between 120 and 139 or a diastolic pressure between 80 and 89 as “prehypertension.”

Prehypertension readings need to be lowered, but they don’t usually need drugs. Weight loss brings down prehypertension readings. So does exercise. A low-salt diet is another way to nudge the pressure downward.

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is a quite successful tool for lowering blood pressure. The diet calls for a daily serving of four or five fruits and four or five vegetables. A fruit serving is one medium-sized fruit, 1/4 cup dried fruit, 1/2 cup frozen or canned fruit or 6 ounces of fruit juice. A vegetable serving is 1 cup leafy greens, 1/2 cup cooked vegetables or 6 ounces of vegetable juice.

The diet specifies two or three low-fat dairy products daily, with a serving being 8 ounces of milk, 1 cup of yogurt or 1 1/2 ounces of cheese. Fats and oils are limited to two or three servings a day, with 1 teaspoon soft margarine, 2 tablespoons light salad dressing and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil (olive, corn, canola or safflower) constituting a serving. Seven or eight grain products round out the daily menu, with a slice of bread, 1 ounce dry cereal and 1/2 cup of rice as examples of a serving. Two daily servings of meat, poultry and fish are allowed, at 3 ounces per serving. Four or five servings of nuts or dried beans are encouraged each week (1/3 cup of nuts and 1/2 cup dried beans are servings).

The newly revised blood pressure pamphlet can give readers a handle on blood pressure control. To obtain a copy, write to: Dr. Donohue – No. 104, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 23853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6.50 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Save me. I have a rectal itch that is driving me crazy. Nighttime is the worst time. How can I conquer this? – S.K.

Here’s a list of foods that sometimes provoke rectal itching: coffee, alcohol, nuts, popcorn, citrus fruits and juices, and tomatoes. Every week eliminate three. If the itch stops, you are on the track of the culprit. Add one item back each week, and when the itch returns you have found your nemesis.

Food is far from being the only cause, so explore other treatments. Take two tub baths a day in warm water only – no soap or bath oils. Pat yourself dry.

Change brands of toilet tissue.

After a bowel movement, clean yourself with baby wipes or water-moistened cotton balls.

If you make no headway after taking these steps, see your doctor. There are illnesses that produce rectal itching that require prompt attention.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Would you furnish the cholesterol content of meats for my husband and me? We need to lower our blood cholesterol, and I want to start out by eliminating meats high in cholesterol. Thank you. – C.J.

I can give you some examples. Each example is 3.5 ounces of meat: roast beef, 106 mg; lean ground beef, 78; sirloin, 89; lamb, 90; pork chops, 85; veal, 118; ham, 53; dark chicken with skin, 88; light chicken with skin, 84.

Don’t fixate only on the cholesterol content of meat. Pay attention to saturated fat. That’s the stuff that surrounds a cut of meat and the stuff that gives meat a marbled appearance. Saturated fat primes the liver to make cholesterol, and it actually causes a greater rise in blood cholesterol than do cholesterol foods.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.