Like a coiled rattlesnake, hypertension lurks quietly within us and strikes us when we least expect it. Hypertension, or high blood pressure (BP), is a common disease in which blood flows through blood vessels (arteries) at pressures that are higher than normal. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the arteries’ walls as the heart pumps blood. High blood pressure occurs when this force is too high.1
High BP leads to many other medical conditions and its silent nature makes it even more deadly. Heart disease is the major cause of death in the world, responsible for over 17 million deaths each year and accounts for 1 in 7 deaths in the US. High BP affects nearly 1 billion people globally and about 30 percent of adults in Western countries.2 Here are simple diet and lifestyle changes that can help prevent hypertension.
1. Fish Oil
Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which has a role in cardiovascular health and in reducing hypertension. They reduce triglycerides and protect the blood vessels in the arteries from getting blocked. Essential fatty acids are important to cardiovascular health. Fish oil is beneficial for lowering BP in people with hypertension, and even those without hypertension.3
Many clinical studies suggest that consumption of omega polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) contributes to the reduction of cardiovascular mortality and offers beneficial effects on blood pressure.4
Garlic is widely used by patients for its blood pressure lowering effects. Aged garlic extract is very effective and has little or no known harmful interaction when taken with other BP-reducing or blood-thinning medication.5 It reduces and regulates blood pressure by releasing nitric oxide. Garlic is especially effective against hardening of the arteries.
Magnesium is known to help prevent and lower hypertension. A magnesium-rich diet should be encouraged in the prevention of hypertension as magnesium is important in the physiological regulation of blood pressure.6 Research has shown that the combination of increased intake of magnesium and potassium coupled with reduced sodium intake is more effective in reducing BP than single mineral intake and is just as effective as antihypertensive medications that treat hypertension.
Magnesium also increases the effectiveness of all antihypertensive drugs.7 Magnesium is found in walnuts, almonds, peanuts, dark leafy greens, fish, avocados, dried fruit, and dark chocolate.
4. Reduce Salt
Moderate reduction of dietary salt intake is generally an effective measure to reduce blood pressure. The WHO strongly recommends reducing dietary salt intake to decrease the number of deaths from hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.8
A reduced intake of salt over a 4-week period has been shown to drastically reduce blood pressure. Reducing your salt intake is very easy and is more important than consuming fish or fiber as it has a greater impact on your overall health.
Fibrous foods are great for your overall health and especially for controlling hypertension. In one study, subjects with a high-fiber intake were found to have lower mean blood pressures than those with a low-fiber intake. It also suggested that differences in the type and quantity of dietary fiber and fat may be responsible for the lower mean blood pressures of groups of vegetarians compared with similar groups of non-vegetarians.9
Since Western diets are generally low in fiber content, consuming fruits and vegetables instead of processed and packaged foods helps in regulating BP and in preventing cardiovascular diseases.
Potassium is an essential nutrient. Consumption of a low-sodium and high-potassium diet is a critical strategy for prevention and treatment of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.10 Dietary potassium intake has been demonstrated to significantly lower blood pressure in both hypertensive and non-hypertensive patients in observational studies and clinical trials.11
More importantly, potassium also reduces the risk of cardiovascular accidents independent of BP reductions. Potassium maintains the balance of electrolytes and fluids in the body. Foods such as fish, avocado, spinach, almonds, chard, beans, and bananas are good sources of potassium.
It goes without saying that exercise is crucial for a healthy life. Physical activity stimulates the production of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and reduces hypertension. Healthcare experts recommend exercise as initial lifestyle therapy to prevent, treat, and control hypertension. Hypertension is the most common, expensive, and preventable cardiovascular disease risk factor.
Fitness experts and physicians both recommend exercising for at least 30 minutes every day for people with hypertension.12 Endurance exercise training can lower blood pressure in older adults with mild hypertension.13 Aerobics and cardio exercises have a positive effect in lowering BP. But, heavy weightlifting can potentially aggravate high blood pressure.
|↑1||Description of High Blood Pressure. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.2015.|
|↑2, ↑5||Ried, Karin, and Peter Fakler. “Potential of garlic (Allium sativum) in lowering high blood pressure: mechanisms of action and clinical relevance.” Integrated blood pressure control 7 (2014): 71.|
|↑3||Yang, H. A. G. E. N., and Anne Kenny. “The role of fish oil in hypertension.” Connecticut medicine 71, no. 9 (2007): 533-538.|
|↑4||Cabo, Jorge, Rodrigo Alonso, and Pedro Mata. “Omega-3 fatty acids and blood pressure.” British Journal of Nutrition 107, no. S2 (2012): S195-S200.|
|↑6||Touyz, R. M. “Role of magnesium in the pathogenesis of hypertension.” Molecular aspects of medicine 24, no. 1 (2003): 107-136.|
|↑7||Houston, Mark. “The role of magnesium in hypertension and cardiovascular disease.” The Journal of Clinical Hypertension 13, no. 11 (2011): 843-847.|
|↑8||Ha, Sung Kyu. “Dietary salt intake and hypertension.” Electrolytes & Blood Pressure 12, no. 1 (2014): 7-18.|
|↑9||Wright, Angela, P. G. Burstyn, and M. J. Gibney. “Dietary fibre and blood pressure.” Br Med J 2, no. 6204 (1979): 1541-1543.|
|↑10||Castro, Hector, and Leopoldo Raij. “Potassium in hypertension and cardiovascular disease.” In Seminars in nephrology, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 277-289. WB Saunders, 2013.|
|↑11||Houston, Mark C. “The importance of potassium in managing hypertension.” Current hypertension reports 13, no. 4 (2011): 309-317.|
|↑12||Pescatello, Linda S., Hayley V. MacDonald, Lauren Lamberti, and Blair T. Johnson. “Exercise for hypertension: a prescription update integrating existing recommendations with emerging research.” Current hypertension reports 17, no. 11 (2015): 87.|
|↑13||Ehsani, Ali A. “Exercise in patients with hypertension.” The American journal of geriatric cardiology 10, no. 5 (2001): 253-260.|