No one clamors to join the hypertension club, but it sure has a lot of members. About a third of Americans have hypertension (defined as blood pressure consistently higher than 140/90), and another 30 percent are pre-hypertensive (persistent blood pressure readings above 120/80). High blood pressure puts you at greater risk for experiencing a heart attack or stroke, and it can damage your kidneys. That’s the bad news.
The good news: Hypertension usually can be controlled–and you may not need to take medication to do it. Research shows a variety of lifestyle changes, from altering your diet to engaging in a regular meditation practice, can effectively lower blood pressure.
This is the first in a series of articles that will help you understand which natural blood pressure treatments work–and which ones don’t (yet) stand up to clinical scrutiny.
What You Eat Matters
Your diet plays an important role in managing hypertension. In particular, clinical studies show that eating whole foods over processed foods can reduce blood pressure. Changing your eating patterns doesn’t have to be daunting. Here are some ways to ease into it.
1. The DASH Diet: Great for Carb Lovers
An acronym for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, ” the DASH diet is possibly the most-studied eating plan in history. Numerous clinical trials have confirmed the effectiveness of DASH in lowering systolic blood pressure by as much as 11 points. (Systolic blood pressure is the “top” number in a blood pressure reading and represents the arterial pressure produced when the heart contracts and sends blood flowing through your system.)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers a great PDF guide to the DASH diet. This eating plan emphasizes eating more servings of fiber-rich carbohydrates (including whole grains, vegetables, and fruits) while eating fewer servings of lean protein, low-fat dairy products, and nuts or seeds.
The original DASH diet plan called for lowering sodium intake to just 1500 milligrams per day, but this recommendation has recently been challenged by new research. Because sodium is important for critical body functions, new guidelines suggest it’s better to reduce your consumption to no less than 2300 milligrams per day unless your health care provider tells you otherwise. There is no evidence that reducing your intake below that level offers any additional benefit.
2. The Low-Calorie Diet: Works for Weight Loss
Studies have shown that merely reducing your caloric intake can have a positive effect on blood pressure, reducing the systolic reading by up to six points. Why? Probably because a low-calorie diet can help you lose weight, which is known to lower blood pressure.