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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Dawn Handschuh

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, may be the #1 risk factor for death in the world, as it is a risk factor for coronary artery disease, heart attacks, kidney disease, stroke, blindness and possibly Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly one in three adults suffers from high blood pressure, and by the time Americans reach 60, nearly half have high blood pressure.

Is High Blood Pressure Inevitable?

Meat and sugar increase uric acid levels, which are associated with an increased risk for high blood pressure. Salt intake and industrially-manufactured fructose (added sugars) may also be linked to high blood pressure. Interestingly, the fructose found in up to 20 servings of whole fruit daily does not appear to raise blood pressure.

In one study of rural Kenyans, the traditional diet of whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, and dark green leafy vegetables resulted in not a single case of arteriosclerosis among 1,800 individuals.

Among rural Chinese residents who adhered to a traditional plant-based diet, blood pressures of 110 over 70 were the norm for teenagers as well as seniors in their 70s, defying the oft-held belief that blood pressures rise as a result of normal aging.

The largest ever study of diet and blood pressure risk involving 89,000 Californians found a drop in blood pressure, along with diabetes and obesity rates, that correlated with volume of plant foods consumed. Simply removing meat from the diet can lower blood pressure in just seven days, without medication.

Treating Hypertension with Medication

Attempting to reduce high blood pressure with medications may not be as effective as lifestyle approaches, as medications do not treat the underlying cause. Even those already on blood pressure-lowering drugs can gain a further 78% drop in risk by eating and living healthfully.

In the 1940s, Dr. Walter Kempner at Duke University was able to reduce his patients’ high blood pressure with a low-salt, low-protein diet consisting of white rice and fruit. The doctor successfully treated over 18,000 individuals using this all but forgotten intervention that was equal to or more effective than modern high blood pressure drugs. Despite his success, many physicians today fail to prescribe dietary changes to lower high blood pressure among their patients.

Sadly, while there are now hundreds of blood pressure drugs on the market, high blood pressure remains the #1 cause of death and disability in the world, killing nine million people a year.

Foods that May Help Lower High Blood Pressure

A range of research into specific foods or beverages that may help reduce high blood pressure includes beans and other legumes, whole grains, beets, beet juice, cocoa, flaxseeds, greens, hibiscus tea, purple potatoes and the seaweed wakame.

 

Image Credit: jasleen_kaur / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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