One of the major chronic diseases in the US is high blood pressure also known as hypertension. Hypertension is when a person is unable to maintain blood pressure in a healthy range. Hypertension is known as the “silent killer” because there are no obvious symptoms of this disease. This is why it is important for people to get their blood pressure checked regularly. Nearly 30% of US adults have hypertension and another 28% are termed prehypertension. Hypertension increases risks for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, reduce brain function and impair physical mobility.
Optimal systolic blood pressure is less than 120 mm Hg and optimal diastolic blood pressure is less than 80 mm Hg. Prehypertension is when systolic is between 120 and 139 mm Hg or diastolic between 80 and 89 mm Hg. Hypertension is when systolic is greater than 140 mm Hg an diastolic is greater than 90 mm Hg.
Hypertension is unknown for most people. 5-10% of people with hypertension causes may be due to kidney disease, sleep apnea or chronic alcohol abuse. It’s estimated that half of the adults with hypertension have a condition known as salt sensitivity. This is when people respond to high salt intake by experiencing an increase in blood pressure and also have a decrease in blood pressure when salt is too low. People who don’t experience this are known as salt resistant.
There are five primary lifestyle changes to help reduce hypertension:
- Lose weight
- Increase physical activity
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Reduce sodium intake in salt sensitive individuals
- Eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy
Remember, not everyone with hypertension is sensitive to sodium. Because lowering sodium intake doesn’t reduce blood pressure for all individuals, there’s debate about whether or not a low sodium diet is beneficial. However, many different health organizations promote that limiting dietary sodium to 2,300 mg per day is what we should be consuming when the average sodium intake in the US is about 3,400 mg per day.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a study that was designed to assess the effects of the DASH diet on high blood pressure. The plan is similar to MyPyramid because it is low in fat and high in fiber. This diet also focuses on foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium by including 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day with whole grains and low fat dairy products.
Research studies have shown that by eating the DASH diet there has been positive impact on blood pressure. These researchers have estimated that if all Americans followed this diet, heart disease would reduce by 15% and the number of strokes would be 27% lower. The DASH diet has also shown lower risk of coronary heart disease and stoke in women and the risk for metabolic syndrome.
So, if you are a person living with hypertension, I believe that trying the DASH diet before taking medications is a healthy lifestyle to be choosing. Not only are you choosing healthier, nutritious options, but you will be saving yourself from developing more risks of chronic diseases.
Source: Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The Science of Nutrition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2011. Print.