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May 17th Was Hypertension Awareness Day In Canada. Did You Know That 7.4 Million Canadians Have High Blood Pressure? That Means That Most Of You Will At Least Know Someone That Has High Blood Pressure If You Don’t Have It Yourself. This Is An Important Health Concern For Many Of You And Can Lead To Some Pretty Nasty Conditions. I Don’t Know About You But I Certainly Don’t Want To Have A Stroke Or A Heart Attack And Frankly Kidney Disease Is No Walk In The Park Either.

So let’s look as what some of the causes are and what studies have shown to make your blood pressure worse but more importantly better.

What Is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the blood vessels as it circulates. Blood pressure is generally expressed as two numbers. The systolic blood pressure is the top or higher number and reflects the pressure in the artery when the heart contracts. The diastolic blood pressure is the bottom or lower number and reflects the pressure in the artery when the heart relaxes between beats. Your blood pressure will change throughout the day.

How Do You Know If You Have High Blood Pressure?

Let’s look at how the Public Health Agency of Canada defines high blood pressure or hypertension (HTN):

  • Normal blood pressure – systolic blood pressure less than 130 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure less than 85 mmHg.
  • Normal-high blood pressure – systolic blood pressure 130-139 mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure 85-89 mmHg.
  • High blood pressure – systolic blood pressure at or above 140 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure at or above 90 mmHg. Individuals with high blood pressure have hypertension. When measured at home, blood pressure above 135 mmHg systolic or 85 mmHg diastolic pressure is considered high.

Health Risks Of High Blood Pressure

Hypertension Canada lists the following as risks for those that have a blood pressure that is not well controlled:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Dementia
  • Kidney disease
  • Eye problems
  • Erectile dysfunction

None of these look very fun to me or to you I’m sure. That’s why it’s really important that you work with your primary care provider to manage your blood pressure. How The Heck Did This Happen To Me? So you may wonder why you have high blood pressure.

Causes you can control:

  • Unhealthy diet
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Stress
  • Sleep apnea
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease

Causes you can’t control:

  • Age
  • Family

Now What Do I Do?

If your doctor finds that you have high blood pressure then he/she is going to tell you to lose weight, exercise regularly, limit your salt & alcohol intake and reduce stress. As well he or she will also most likely put you on medication. It’s really important so I’ll say it again… please ensure you work with your primary care provider to manage you blood pressure. If you are already on blood pressure medication and want to look at ways you can support a healthy blood pressure then read on as we look at the wide array of factors that have been studied to affect blood pressure. Not all of these may apply to you but certainly addressing your diet and lifestyle can positively affect your life.

Factors That Affect BP

Let’s look a little closer at what has been shown to affect BP. Environmental Factors

Lead

  • Excessive exposure to lead can cause hypertension. Exposure to lead has decreased since the banning of leaded gasoline.
  • Significant sources of exposure remain. – Lead plumbing, (flush water before drinking), canned foods. Occupational exposure may occur in plumbers, glass manufacturers, printers, plastics or battery manufacturers and construction workers.

Cadmium

  • Sources – cigarette smoke, water pipes (both metal and plastic) fertilizers made from sewage sludge. Occupational exposure – manufacturing of plastics, batteries, paints, textiles, and fertilizers.

Dietary Factors

Obesity

  • Being overweight and obesity are risk factors – weight loss has resulted in significant BP reduction.

Sodium chloride

  • Limiting sodium intake can decrease BP in some people.
  • Only 30-50% of people with high blood pressure are salt sensitive.
  • Severe sodium restriction can have negative effects – fatigue, insulin resistance and possibly postural hypotension.
  • Recommendations on salt intake should be individualized.
  • HTN effects of sodium depend on the presence of chloride. Sodium Chloride may raise BP but consumption of sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate or sodium ascorbate has little effect on BP.

 Sucrose

  • In a group of carbohydrate-sensitive people (an exaggerated insulin response to a sucrose load), the mean diastolic BP was significantly higher when the diet contained a moderate amount of sucrose (11% of calories) when compared to 3% or 7% of calories.

Caffeine

  • A single dose of caffeine (125-250mg) can cause a temporary increase in BP.
  • A study showed that the effects of caffeine on BP is more pronounced in men that are have borderline high blood pressure than those with normal blood pressure.
  • 9-11 weeks of no coffee resulted in a small decrease.

Alcohol

  • Numerous studies show a positive association between alcohol intake and BP.
  • In hypertensive chronic alcoholics – BP fell to normal after stopping alcohol significantly decreased both systolic and diastolic BP.

Food Allergy

  • One practitioner reported that of 100 patients with high blood pressure that was associated with atopic allergy, 93% became normotensive solely by avoiding allergenic foods.

DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)

  • This diet was designed to provide abundant amounts of various nutrients that play a role in BP regulation such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and essential fatty acids.
  • Studies show a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic BP after 8 weeks.

Mediterranean diet

  • This diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, fish and olive oil. Low in meat and dairy.
  • Three months on the Mediterranean diet resulted in a significant reduction in BP compared to a low fat diet.

Vegetarian diet

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian or vegan lowered BP in both hypertensive and normotensive.
  • This maybe be related to the weight loss, decreased sugar, salt and caffeine; and increased potassium, calcium, magnesium and EFAs.

Raw Foods

  • Consuming a raw food diet may decrease BP.
  • This improvement was not fully explained by the macro and micronutrients, as cooking the same foods in the diet raised BP to pre-study levels.

Onion

  • A study using crude onion extract lowered BP.
  • It is not clear what the whole onion equivalent would be but it is certainly worthwhile to add onions to your diet.

Garlic

  • Some studies show that supplementing with garlic extract lowered BP in patients with high cholesterol.

Whole oats

  • Study – adding whole oats to diets showed an improvement in BP.

Soy

Pomegranate Juice

  • The Equivalent of 6-8 oz of fresh pomegranate juice for a year dropped systolic BP. (Drinking fruit juice is not recommended for those that have blood sugar concerns such as diabetics or insulin resistance.)

Cooking oils

  • Consuming foods cooked with oils that have been heated to high temperatures has been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure.
  • Especially oils that contain large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids such as sunflower, safflower, soybean or corn oil.
  • High temperature cooking of various foods appears to promote the development of cardiovascular disease and accelerate the aging process. Consumption of fried foods and heavily cooked foods is discouraged.

Sesame Oil

  • Sesame oil contains sesamin that has demonstrated a lowering of blood pressure in rats. As well diabetic patients with high blood pressure when using sesame oil for cooking showed a lowering of blood pressure after 45 days.

Chocolate

  • Eating a small amount of dark chocolate each day could improve BP.
  • It should be noted that the presence of milk markedly inhibits the absorption of polyphenols from chocolate and therefore milk chocolate would not be expected to have the same effect on BP as dark.

Nutritional Supplements

Potassium 

  •  a study showed that 940mg of potassium ( the amount found in 5 servings of fruits and vegetables) significantly lowered blood pressure

Coenzyme Q10 

  •  Improvement is typically seen in 1-4 months. Because if it’s relatively large blood pressure lowering effect and its low toxicity profile, CoQ10 should be seen as a first-line therapy for people that are not responding to diet and other lifestyle changes.

Magnesium

  • Although studies don’t support a large reduction in blood pressure, magnesium has numerous actions that would help cardiovascular disease and enhance overall health.

Vitamin C

  • Studies show an inverse association between vitamin C levels and blood pressure.

Fish oil

  • Numerous studies have found that supplementation with fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids lowers blood pressure.

Now What?

So this is a pretty extensive list of foods and environmental factors that may affect your blood pressure and you may be asking “well what do I do now?” Well it’s important to address any environmental factors that you may be exposed to. Do you live in an older home with lead pipes or suspect an environmental exposure due to the type of work you do. Then start looking at your pantry and fridge and changing it up. Start working now on the following:

  • cut out the refined sugar and alcohol
  • moderate sodium restriction is beneficial for some people
  • avoid excessive intake of caffeine or cut it out completely
  • add more raw foods to your diet
  • emphasize
    1. fruits
    2. veggies
    3. raw nuts and seeds
    4. legumes
    5. whole unprocessed, unrefined grains such as quinoa and brown rice
    6. fish
    7. olive oil
    8. onions and garlic
  • identify and avoid allergenic foods

Should you have high blood pressure and are looking to make dietary and lifestyle changes but need some help. You are welcome to contact the ECNM and meet with naturopath Dr. Janice Dacyshyn and/or RN, Nutritionist Shonda Holt. We both would be honored to assist you on a journey to better health. As well stay tuned as Shonda will share some blood pressure supportive recipes over the next month. Shonda Holt BScN, RN, C.H.N Holistic Nutritionist

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