How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure

How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure
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How might we prevent and reverse hypertension, the number-one risk factor for death in the world?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

High blood pressure is the #1 risk factor for death in the world, affecting nearly 78 million Americans—that’s one in three adults. And, as we age, our pressures get higher and higher, such that by age 60, it strikes more than half. Well, if it affects most of us when we get older, maybe it’s less a disease, and more just an inevitable consequence of aging? No. We’ve known since the 1920s that high blood pressure need not occur.

Researchers measured the blood pressures of a thousand people in rural Kenya who ate a diet centered around whole plant foods—whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, and dark green leafies. Our pressures go up as we age; their pressures actually go down.

And, the lower the better. The whole 140 over 90 cut-off is arbitrary. Even people who start out with blood pressures under 120 over 80 appear to benefit from blood pressure reduction. If you went to your doctor with a blood pressure of 120 over 80, you’d get a gold star.

But the ideal blood pressure, the no-benefit-from-reducing-it-further blood pressure, may actually be 110 over 70. 110 over 70? Is it even possible to get blood pressures down that low? It’s not just possible—it’s normal, for those eating healthy enough diets.

Over two years, at a rural Kenyan hospital, 1,800 patients were admitted. How many cases of high blood pressure did they find? Zero. Wow, they must have had low rates of heart disease? No. They had no rates of heart disease. Not a single case of arteriosclerosis—our #1 killer—was found.

Rural China, too; about 110 over 70 their entire lives; seventy-year-olds with the same average blood pressure as sixteen-year-olds. Now, Africa, China; vastly different diets, but what they shared in common is that they were plant-based day-to-day, with meat only eaten on special occasions.

Now, why do we think it’s the plant-based nature of their diets that was so protective? Because in the Western world, as the American Heart Association has pointed out, the only folks really getting it down that low were those eating strictly plant-based diets—coming in at about 110 over 65.

This is the largest study of those eating plant-based diets to date—89,000 Californians, comparing non-vegetarians to so-called semi-vegetarians or flexitarians (eating meat more on a weekly basis than a daily basis); compared to those who eat no meat, except fish; compared to those who eat no meat at all; compared to those who eat no meat, eggs, or dairy.

Now, this was an Adventist study, so, even the non-vegetarians didn’t eat a lot of meat. And, they tended to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and exercised, and not smoke. So, even compared to a group of relatively healthy meat-eaters, there appeared to be a stepwise drop in hypertension rates as people ate more and more plant-based. Same thing with diabetes and obesity.

So, yes, we can wipe out most of our risk eating strictly plant-based. But it’s not all-or-nothing; it’s not black-or-white. Any movement along the spectrum towards eating healthier can accrue significant health benefits. You can show this experimentally. You take vegetarians; you give them meat (and pay them enough to eat it); and their blood pressures go up. Or, you remove meat from people’s diets; and blood pressures go down—in just seven days! And, this is after the vast majority reduced or stopped their blood pressure medications completely. They had to stop their medications.

Once you treat the cause, once you eliminate the disease, you can’t be on blood pressure pills with normal blood pressure. You can drop your pressures too low, get dizzy, fall over, hurt yourself—so, your doctor has to pull you off the pills. Lower pressures on fewer drugs; that’s the power of plants.

So, does the American Heart Association recommend a no-meat diet? No, they recommend a low-meat diet, the so-called DASH diet. Why not completely plant-based? When the DASH diet was being created, were they just not aware of this landmark research, done by Harvard’s Frank Sacks? No, they were aware. The chair of the design committee that came up with the DASH diet was Frank Sacks.

See, the DASH diet was explicitly designed with the #1 goal of capturing the blood pressure-lowering benefits of a vegetarian diet, yet contain enough animal products to make it palatable to the general population. They didn’t think the public could handle the truth.

Now, in their defense, you can see what they were thinking. Just like drugs never work—unless you actually take them, diets never work—unless you actually eat them.  So, they’re like, look, no one is going to eat strictly plant-based. So, if they soft-pedaled the message, and came up with some kind of compromise diet, then maybe, on a population scale, they’d do more good.

Okay, tell that to the thousand American families a day that lose a loved one to high blood pressure. Maybe, it’s time to start telling the American public the truth.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Videography courtesy of Grant Peacock

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

High blood pressure is the #1 risk factor for death in the world, affecting nearly 78 million Americans—that’s one in three adults. And, as we age, our pressures get higher and higher, such that by age 60, it strikes more than half. Well, if it affects most of us when we get older, maybe it’s less a disease, and more just an inevitable consequence of aging? No. We’ve known since the 1920s that high blood pressure need not occur.

Researchers measured the blood pressures of a thousand people in rural Kenya who ate a diet centered around whole plant foods—whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, and dark green leafies. Our pressures go up as we age; their pressures actually go down.

And, the lower the better. The whole 140 over 90 cut-off is arbitrary. Even people who start out with blood pressures under 120 over 80 appear to benefit from blood pressure reduction. If you went to your doctor with a blood pressure of 120 over 80, you’d get a gold star.

But the ideal blood pressure, the no-benefit-from-reducing-it-further blood pressure, may actually be 110 over 70. 110 over 70? Is it even possible to get blood pressures down that low? It’s not just possible—it’s normal, for those eating healthy enough diets.

Over two years, at a rural Kenyan hospital, 1,800 patients were admitted. How many cases of high blood pressure did they find? Zero. Wow, they must have had low rates of heart disease? No. They had no rates of heart disease. Not a single case of arteriosclerosis—our #1 killer—was found.

Rural China, too; about 110 over 70 their entire lives; seventy-year-olds with the same average blood pressure as sixteen-year-olds. Now, Africa, China; vastly different diets, but what they shared in common is that they were plant-based day-to-day, with meat only eaten on special occasions.

Now, why do we think it’s the plant-based nature of their diets that was so protective? Because in the Western world, as the American Heart Association has pointed out, the only folks really getting it down that low were those eating strictly plant-based diets—coming in at about 110 over 65.

This is the largest study of those eating plant-based diets to date—89,000 Californians, comparing non-vegetarians to so-called semi-vegetarians or flexitarians (eating meat more on a weekly basis than a daily basis); compared to those who eat no meat, except fish; compared to those who eat no meat at all; compared to those who eat no meat, eggs, or dairy.

Now, this was an Adventist study, so, even the non-vegetarians didn’t eat a lot of meat. And, they tended to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and exercised, and not smoke. So, even compared to a group of relatively healthy meat-eaters, there appeared to be a stepwise drop in hypertension rates as people ate more and more plant-based. Same thing with diabetes and obesity.

So, yes, we can wipe out most of our risk eating strictly plant-based. But it’s not all-or-nothing; it’s not black-or-white. Any movement along the spectrum towards eating healthier can accrue significant health benefits. You can show this experimentally. You take vegetarians; you give them meat (and pay them enough to eat it); and their blood pressures go up. Or, you remove meat from people’s diets; and blood pressures go down—in just seven days! And, this is after the vast majority reduced or stopped their blood pressure medications completely. They had to stop their medications.

Once you treat the cause, once you eliminate the disease, you can’t be on blood pressure pills with normal blood pressure. You can drop your pressures too low, get dizzy, fall over, hurt yourself—so, your doctor has to pull you off the pills. Lower pressures on fewer drugs; that’s the power of plants.

So, does the American Heart Association recommend a no-meat diet? No, they recommend a low-meat diet, the so-called DASH diet. Why not completely plant-based? When the DASH diet was being created, were they just not aware of this landmark research, done by Harvard’s Frank Sacks? No, they were aware. The chair of the design committee that came up with the DASH diet was Frank Sacks.

See, the DASH diet was explicitly designed with the #1 goal of capturing the blood pressure-lowering benefits of a vegetarian diet, yet contain enough animal products to make it palatable to the general population. They didn’t think the public could handle the truth.

Now, in their defense, you can see what they were thinking. Just like drugs never work—unless you actually take them, diets never work—unless you actually eat them.  So, they’re like, look, no one is going to eat strictly plant-based. So, if they soft-pedaled the message, and came up with some kind of compromise diet, then maybe, on a population scale, they’d do more good.

Okay, tell that to the thousand American families a day that lose a loved one to high blood pressure. Maybe, it’s time to start telling the American public the truth.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Videography courtesy of Grant Peacock

Doctor's Note

The first time someone visits NutritionFacts.org can be overwhelming. With videos on more than 2,000 health topics, where do you even begin? Imagine stumbling onto the site not knowing what to expect and the new video-of-the-day is about how a particular spice can be effective in treating a particular form of arthritis. It would be easy to miss the forest for the trees, which is precisely why I created a new series of overview videos that are essentially taken straight from my live, hour-long 2016 presentation HOW NOT TO DIE: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

For the other videos in this overview series, see:

Inspired to learn more about the role diet may play in preventing and treating high blood pressure? Check out these other popular videos on the topic:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

Finally, please note the quote mismatch discrepancy. Hat tips to Todd and “guest” for figuring that out! As is customary on NutritionFacts.org, if you point out an error, you get a free DVD or book of your choice—and my eternal gratitude!

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