Traditional Heart Disease Prevention
Eating to Lower High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure speeds up hardening of the arteries, which increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and other serious diseases. Controlling high blood pressure lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Eating a diet that is low in sodium and high in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can help reduce high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is blood pressure that consistently measures at or above 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg). People who have blood pressure below 120/80 mm/Hg have normal blood pressure. Blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 is called prehypertension.
It’s important to prevent and treat high blood pressure. Although high blood pressure causes no symptoms, it damages the linings of the arteries and causes atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. As a result, the risks for heart and vascular disease increase. Fortunately, patients can manage or lower their blood pressure with dietary changes, other lifestyle changes, and/or medications.
An eating plan called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) significantly reduces high blood pressure. The DASH diet is low in saturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
The DASH diet can reduce systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 8 to 14 mm/Hg, and reducing sodium intake can reduce systolic blood pressure by an additional 2 to 8 mm/Hg.
What Conditions Will it Help?
Reducing high blood pressure will lower the risk for:
- Heart attack
- Aneurysms and other conditions of the aorta
- Angina pectoris
- Peripheral arterial disease
- Atrial arrhythmias
- Carotid artery disease
- Congenital heart disease
- Diabetic vascular disease
- Kidney failure
- Aortoiliac disease
The physician measures blood pressure over time before recommending lifestyle changes.
Before recommending a diet to help lower blood pressure, the physician:
- Measures blood pressure regularly
- Performs a physical examination
- Asks about the patient’s health history and lifestyle factors
Diseases such as heart and vascular disease affect treatment recommendations and blood pressure goals.
Who is Eligible?
All patients are eligible for a diet that lowers blood pressure.
What to Expect
The physician may recommend combining the DASH eating plan with a reduced sodium intake. A reduced sodium intake is less than 2,400 mg of sodium a day (1 teaspoon of salt has about 2,300 mg of sodium).
In general, the DASH eating plan emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products. The diet limits red meats, fats and oils, and sweets. The DASH plan also recommends including nuts, seeds, and legumes. Although the program is based on 2,000 calories a day, the physician will help determine the patient’s exact caloric needs.
People who change to a DASH-type diet may consume more fiber than they are used to. A high fiber intake can cause gas, diarrhea, or other digestive problems in some people. Introducing high-fiber foods gradually can help patients avoid these symptoms.
Besides following a diet to lower blood pressure, patients should make other lifestyle changes to manage or lower their blood pressure.
These changes include:
- Losing weight
- Limiting alcohol consumption to 2 or fewer drinks a day
- Quitting smoking
How Soon Will it Make a Difference?
In studies, patients following the DASH diet experienced lower blood pressures within 2 weeks of starting the diet. Physicians recommend that patients make lifestyle changes for at least 3 months.
If lifestyle changes have not lowered high blood pressure sufficiently, the physician may prescribe medications. People who take medications should continue making lifestyle changes.
Patients who already take blood pressure medications should not stop using them once they start eating to lower their blood pressure or adding any other lifestyle changes. Patients should always discuss their drug treatment with their physician