There’s a silent killer among us. It is called High Blood Pressure or Hypertension (HPN)
Hypertension afflicts one out of three adult Americans according to the American Heart Association. Based on the latest report of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is the most common predisposing factor of heart disease and stroke, the first and fourth leading causes of death in the US. It is “silent” because HPN does not often cause alarming symptoms until it has damaged vital organs. Fortunately, you don’t have to be its victim.
But first, what is Hypertension?
Have you noticed that liquid coming from a smaller pipe has greater pressure than when it flows from a larger pipe? That’s basically the principle behind Hypertension. Blood has to be distributed into the various parts of your body through your blood vessels since it carries oxygen and nutrients that your body cells need. Blood pressure is the pressure or force which your blood exerts on the walls of your blood vessels like your arteries. HPN occurs when this pressure becomes too strong. The reason behind this is that the affected blood vessel has become too narrow either due to the deposit of fats or plaques on its walls or because it has hardened (atherosclerosis).
Recent guidelines on blood pressure (BP) states that a normal blood pressure is a systolic pressure of below 120 mmHg and a diastolic pressure of below 80 mmHg – in other words, a reading of under 120/80 mmHg. This is lower than the traditional “normal” BP reading of below 140/80 mmHg. Systolic pressure is the force exerted by blood on the blood vessel wall when the heart beats and the diastolic pressure is the BP when the heart relaxes.
If unmanaged, HPN can cause blood vessels to rupture (aneurysm) and form blood clots as well as cause heart enlargement as the heart has to constantly pump harder to match the high pressure. These events will likely lead to heart diseases and stroke, conditions that have killed over 700,000 Americans in 2007.
But as previously mentioned, you don’t have to end up as another prey to this silent killer. You can prevent or stop HPN from turning into a complication.
How to prevent Hypertension?
Currently, the common practice is to place patients under daily maintenance of anti-hypertensive medications, usually for the rest of their lives. But dependence on drugs alone has been considered an “incomplete” solution by experts like Dr. Lawrence Appel, Professor of Medicine at John Hopkins Medical Institution. Dr. Appel instead stressed the importance of lifestyle modifications in fighting high blood pressure and its complications in his article “Lifestyle Modification as a Means to Prevent and Treat High Blood Pressure” published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.
An HPN patient under drug therapy, Appel says, can even lower his drug dosage or eventually give up taking drugs in time if he consistently modifies his lifestyle. He further asserted that lifestyle modifications are also beneficial to those whose blood pressures are elevated but are still low to qualify for medication, as well as to healthy individuals who want to protect themselves from HPN.
So what are these lifestyle modifications? These are basically common healthy lifestyle habits that are easier said than done. Below are seven of these practices, six of which have been cited by Dr. Appel in his article.
1. Move More. Studies show that individuals who exercise regularly have a net systolic BP reduction of 4 mmHg. In addition, more physical activity results to weight loss which further prevents HPN. Your exercise routine also doesn’t need to be intense. Dr. Appel suggests following the US Surgeon General’s recommendation that you should exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week or better yet, every day.
2. Consume Less Salt. Too much salt in the body increases BP basically because this causes water accumulation or edema in the cells. Various researches found out that reduced salt or sodium intake either alone or combined with weight loss has decreased incidence of HPN by 20%. Limited salt consumption is said to lower systemic BP by 11.5 mmHg in hypertensive individuals. The current allowable daily salt intake is up to 2400 mg. To ensure that you don’t exceed this, choose foods that are low in salt. Avoid canned goods as they are high in sodium. Cook your own food as much as possible so you can control its salt content.
3. Lose Weight. Overweight individuals are more predisposed to develop fat deposits or plaques on the walls of the blood. These plaques result to the narrowing of blood vessels and thereby cause HPN. Maintaining ideal weight is then crucial in decreasing BP. An aggregate study of 11 weight loss trials showed that there was an average systolic and diastolic BP reductions of 1.6/1.1 mmHg in every kilogram of weight loss.
4. Drink Less Alcohol. Many studies documented the direct relation of BP elevation and high alcohol consumption. Cutting alcohol intake to two drinks or less per day for men and one drink for women lowers BP.
5. Eat More Potassium-Rich Foods. More potassium means lower BP because potassium pushes sodium out of the cells. Hypertensives taking a supplement dose of 60-120 mmdol/d of potassium decreased their systolic and diastolic BP by 4.4 and 2.5 mmHg. Foods high in potassium are more effective in providing more potassium in your diet than pills, so make sure you eat potassium-rich foods like avocado, banana, cantaloupe, and dark leafy vegetables among others.
6. Switch To DASH Diet. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Insitutes of Health (NIH) has come up with a diet that is specifically aimed at lowering BP. This is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Known to decrease BP within two weeks, the DASH diet is definitely worth your efforts to adopt. Here are its daily guidelines:
• 7 to 8 servings of grains
• 4 to 5 servings of vegetables
• 4 to 5 servings of fruit
• 2 to 3 servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy
• 2 or less servings of meat, fish, or poultry
• 2 to 3 servings of fats and oils
• 4 to 5 servings per week of nuts, seeds, and dry beans
• Less than 5 servings a week of sweets
7. Use Herbs That Reduce BP. Although unmentioned by Dr. Appel, there are herbs used by the Indian and Chinese and are said to be effective in fighting HPN by relaxing or widening arteries and thinning the blood. These include garlic, hawthorn, kelp, cinnamon and ginger. You can add these to your diet but only after getting your doctor’s permission. Some of the herbs’ components may interfere with the drugs you’re taking.