The British Heart Foundation estimates around 7 million people in the UK are living with undiagnosed high blood pressure. This is a concern as high blood pressure may give no symptoms but can increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, dementia, kidney failure, diabetes and peripheral vascular disease.
Thirty percent of the population has high blood pressure, and another 30 percent has pre-hypertension (hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure). Before the age of 45, men are more likely than women to have high blood pressure but after 65 the ratio reverses. Diagnosis is often as a result of routine health monitoring, although for some people undiagnosed high blood pressure may produce symptoms of headaches and visual or respiratory difficulties. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury and is recorded as two figures:
Systolic pressure: the pressure of the blood when the heart beats.
Diastolic pressure: the pressure of the blood when the heart is at rest, between beats.
Measurements are read as systolic over diastolic (systolic/diastolic).
An optimal blood pressure reading is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.
Possible early high blood pressure readings are considered between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg.
High blood pressure is defined as a reading of 140/90mmHg or higher and low blood pressure is 90/60mmHg or lower.
Some of the risk factors for high blood pressure include; age, obesity, being of African or Caribbean descent, genetics, a sedentary lifestyle, high alcohol intake, high coffee or salt consumption, a lack of fruit and vegetable intake, smoking and poor or insufficient sleep.
Blood Pressure Medications
Blood pressure-lowering medications include beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, diuretics and calcium channel blockers. It is common that more than one medication is needed to control hypertension. Initially, these medications were only recommended for people whose blood pressure exceeded 160/100 mmHg, but now they are routinely prescribed when blood pressure approaches 140/90 mmHg, even in the absence of any previous cardiovascular event. Treating mild hypertension with drugs has not been shown to be effective, yet it is commonly practiced.
Some of the risks of blood pressure-lowering medications include; dizziness, depression, headaches, sleep problems, erectile dysfunction, and renal or cardiac dysfunction. Often, these side effects lead to further prescription drugs such as testosterone or Viagra. Dietary changes, lifestyle strategies, and supplements have the potential to reverse high blood pressure without the need for lifelong prescriptions and may be better utilised in the early stages of hypertension. Medication may be required for more serious hypertension cases and a combination of medication and nutritional support may be used together whilst blood pressure readings are regularly monitored.
Nutritional and lifestyle approaches to support healthy blood pressure include:
Magnesium. High magnesium intake is associated with lower blood pressure and may have a synergistic effect with potassium. Increasing both nutrients while moderately reducing sodium may lower blood pressure to the same extent as a single medication. Nuts, seeds, spinach, dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spring greens, and dark chocolate are good whole food magnesium sources.
Potassium. High potassium intake is associated with lower blood pressure . The average dietary potassium intake is around 2,800 mg per day, below the recommended 4,700 mg. Starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash, potatoes parsnips and beetroot, avocados, white beans, yoghurt, halibut and seeds are all good sources of potassium.
Vitamin K2. Adequate vitamin K2 prevents calcium from residing in blood vessels, thereby preventing hypertension and calcification. Vitamins K1 and K2 have different forms and functions. Vitamin K1 is abundant in leafy greens and many other foods, while vitamin K2 sources are include; natto (fermented soy), some cheeses, butter from grass-fed cows, goose liver, and egg yolks. Vegans can often be deficient in vitamin K2.
Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension and large doses of vitamin D (50,000 IU per week) have been shown to lower blood pressure over eight weeks. Sun exposure is the best way to obtain vitamin D as food sources are low, or consider testing vitamin D status and supplementing for a short period at larger doses ideally under supervision.
Sugar. Excess sugar intake increases blood pressure, and reducing added sugars lowers blood pressure. Added sugars are contained in many foods as well as more obvious sweet choices like desserts and biscuits, including salad dressings, bread, canned beans, yoghurts and bacon.
Salt. The World Health Organisation recommends reducing salt intake to a maximum of 5-6g per day, with many people believed to be eating in excess of this and around 12-13g of dietary salt per day. Some scientists have found a link between restricting salt intake too much and an increase in risk from cardiovascular disease. As such, small amounts of salt – around 1.5 tsp of unrefined salt (around 3.6g) added to foods daily would sit within recommendations. Avoiding processed and packaged foods such as tinned foods, soups, ready meals and breads that can contain a lot of added salts can help limit salt intake.
Omega 3 fatty acids. Increasing serum measurements of DHA and EPA, are related to lower blood pressure. Cold-water fatty fish intake is advised to be three times a week, avoiding fish high in mercury. Omega 3 fatty acid supplements may support levels in more therapeutic dosages and for those who do not consume enough fish.
Other specific foods shown to reduce blood pressure include:
- Nuts – a handful a day is ideal
- Beetroot juice – you can buy pre made beetroot juice from companies like Beet It, or you can make your own. Add a touch of lemon, ginger and apple to lighten it up a bit and avoid it being too earthy.
- Blueberries – fresh or frozen
- Seaweed – sprinkled over salads or rolled up nori strips for sushi
- Chocolate – DARK, at least 80% cocoa content
- Hibiscus tea – I LOVE Hampstead Tea’s Rosehip and Hibiscus tea blend
Suggestions for a blood pressure supportive daily menu
Breakfast – Organic scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, sliced avocado and a large portion of fresh blueberries. A cup of hibiscus tea.
Lunch – Feta, beetroot and butternut squash salad with green leaves (spinach or rocket) dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. 1 handful of nuts after lunch such as cashews or walnuts.
Dinner – Mackerel or salmon fillet baked with lemon and ginger, a baked sweet potato + 2 portions of green vegetables steamed and dressed with olive oil. 2 squares of 80%+ dark chocolate afterwards.
If you have high blood pressure and would like to consider more personalised and supervised nutritional support get in touch. If you would like specific supplemental support to manage high blood pressure please book an appointment.