All You Need To Know About Blood Pressure
High blood pressure stats
70 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure. That’s about one-third of the population. Another one-third has prehypertension, meaning their blood pressure is on the high side of normal and they are at risk of developing hypertension soon.
High blood pressure costs Americans $46 billion every year in medical care, medications and missed days of work.
It is more prevalent in men than women who are under 45. Between the ages of 45 and 65, roughly the same amount of men and women have high blood pressure. Above the age of 65, it is more prevalent in women. 5 percent of American children have high blood pressure.
High blood pressure facts
High blood pressure and the cardiovascular conditions associated with it kill 1,000 Americans every day.
90 percent of high blood pressure cases are associated with lifestyle choices and age. Almost all people who are obese also have high blood pressure. It is often associated with a high-sodium diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Other dietary factors play a large role, such as consumption of saturated fats, caffeine, alcohol as well as in people with high or sustained stress in their lives.
10 percent of high blood pressure cases are a secondary side effect of another condition, such as hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, kidney failure, Conn’s syndrome. It can also come during pregnancy, or in very rare cases, from eating too much liquorice.
High blood pressure by itself causes stress to the arteries over time. This can lead to cracks between cells in the arterial wall, myocardial infarctions and aneurysms. Prolonged high blood pressure leads to arteriosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in the arteries. This is a major risk factor for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
How do I know if I have high blood pressure?
Doctors always measure the blood pressure of their patients and automated machines are often available in pharmacies for you to measure your own blood pressure.
Blood pressure is composed to two measurements: systolic and diastolic. These are shown in two numbers separated by a slash. For example, 120/88. The first number is systolic. The second is diastolic.
Systolic measures the pressure in the artery just as the heart pumps blood through the artery. Diastolic measure the pressure in an artery between pumps.
Measurements are as follows:
- Normal blood pressure: 90/60 – 119/79
- Prehypertension: 120/80 – 139/89
- Stage 1 hypertension: 140/90 – 159/99
- Stage 2 hypertension: 160/100 – 179/109
- Stage 3 hypertension: Over 180 systolic, over 110 diastolic
High blood pressure treatment
Medication is the most common form of high blood pressure treatment. There are four main types, and most sufferers of high blood pressure take more than one type at a time.
Doctors recommend lifestyle changes, but medication often acts as a way for people to not address the root causes of their health problems as they often cause the symptoms to go away and for patients to feel better.
High blood pressure is among several diseases in which lifestyle is the primary cause, and changing the lifestyle is the safest and most effective way to address blood pressure problems.
Lifestyle causes of high blood pressure
- High saturated fat and LDL (bad cholesterol) diet. This includes fried foods, particularly foods fried in canola oil, which is the vast majority. But many sauces, processed foods from the grocery store, snack foods and fast food is very high in saturated fat and LDLs.
- High sodium diet. Sodium is an additive in the vast majority of processed foods, fast foods and even most restaurants.
- High sugar and high grain diet. Consumption of both of these foods causes spikes in insulin which, over time, leads to insulin resistance in the body’s cells. Two-thirds of insulin resistant people also have high blood pressure. This is mainly due to insulin’s role in storing the mineral magnesium, which helps relax muscles and arteries. Without magnesium, arteries constrict and blood pressure becomes higher.
- Sedentary lifestyle. Particularly combined with high saturated fat and high sodium diets, a sedentary lifestyle causes plaque buildup in the arteries and high blood pressure.
- Obesity. A combination of the previous three lifestyle choices can often lead to obesity. In obese individuals, the heart must work harder to pump blood through what can amount to several miles more of arteries. This causes a rise in blood pressure as well.
- Stress. Individuals with high and sustained levels of stress in their lives are more at risk of high blood pressure. Stress causes the body to release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which raise the heart rate and thus, blood pressure.
- Overconsumption of caffeine and alcohol. Both of these substances raise heart rate and blood pressure. While generally unproblematic in moderation, sustained high levels of consumption can be dangerous.
Lifestyle solutions to high blood pressure
Foods to limit or eliminate
The first step in combatting high blood pressure is to address your diet. Limit sugars, grains, sodium, saturated fat and bad cholesterol.
This includes limiting fruit sugar (fructose) as it contributes to blocking nitric oxide, a compound crucial in arterial flexibility. Fructose consumption should be limited to 25g per day. As a result of the high amount of foods with fructose, particularly high fructose corn syrup, 25 percent of Americans consume more than 134 grams of fructose a day. Berries are a great alternative as they contain ketones, which help regulate metabolism and blood sugar levels.
Fast foods and processed foods have to go. For many of you, these items compose the majority of your diet, and changing that equates to a significant shift in your lifestyle. It can be difficult, but worth it. Processed food is high in sodium, saturated fat and LDLs, all major contributors to high blood pressure.
You’ll find that eliminating these foods will also contribute greatly to weight loss, which will by itself lower your blood pressure.
Also limit caffeine consumption. The link between caffeine and high blood pressure (beyond the fact that caffeine raises your heart rate) is not totally clear. But it is clear that there is a link.
Limit alcohol consumption. While true that a glass of wine a day can be good for heart health, this is nothing that can’t be replaced with other foods. Over-consumption of alcohol leads to weight gain, and having three drinks or more in one sitting raises your blood pressure immediately. Prolonged heavy drinking can raise blood pressure over the long term.
Foods to introduce or raise consumption
You can control high blood pressure by increasing good cholesterol (HDLs), Vitamin D, Magnesium, Potassium and Calcium in your diet.
- HDLs can be found in several places, including coconut oil, avocados, fatty cold-water fish like salmon and mackerel, olive oil, nuts (though try to avoid peanuts for other reasons) and flaxseeds.
- Magnesium can be found in high doses in foods like white beans, quinoa, dark chocolate (the darker the better) and dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale and collards.
- Potassium can be found in high doses in bananas, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, avocados, yogurt, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel and dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale and collards.
- Calcium can be found in high doses in dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese as well as bok choy, broccoli, green beans, nuts, okra and sweet potatoes.
- Vitamin D can be found in high doses in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, red meat (particularly beef liver), cheese and eggs.
A diet with a healthy balance of these foods will help to lower your blood pressure, particularly if they are used to replace high sodium and saturated fat foods.
Exercise is vital to a healthy lifestyle. For those who have spent many years living a sedentary lifestyle, even a short, daily walk is a step in the right direction.
Recent evidence suggests that short bursts of high-intensity activity are the best exercise method for overall health. This is opposed to endurance training such as long-distance running.
The method is called burst training and the benefits can be gained in as little as 20 minutes a day.
However, any physical activity is good. For some, joining a local soccer league or taking up hiking can greatly increase their quality of life. Lifting weights or participating in spin classes or yoga at your local gym will also help.
As Vitamin D deficiency is linked to high blood pressure, exercising outside provides the double benefit of physical activity and exposure to the sun, from which Vitamin D can be absorbed.
Supplements including calcium, magnesium, potassium, Vitamins D, C and E will help to reduce high blood pressure. Olive leaf extract has also been shown to reduce both blood pressure and levels of bad cholesterol. It’s particularly effective for people with moderately high blood pressure.
As stress is a major contributor to high blood pressure, managing and reducing stress is paramount in managing and reducing high blood pressure. We live in high-stress societies, and this has become very difficult for many people.
In the short term, controlled breathing, taking a hot bath or meditation can manage stress. In the long term, stress is best managed by constant maintenance, i.e., regular exercise, consistent meditation and regularly participating in enjoyable activities. This can be anything from camping or fishing to a weekly meet-up with friends to building cabinets. It’s up to you!
Breastfeeding has been shown to be linked to a lower chance of developing hypertension later in life. And some evidence in animals suggest that electrical impulses combined with acupuncture will lower blood pressure.