Recommendations to Help Prevent High Blood Pressure
Fifty million adults in the United States have hypertension (high blood pressure), a condition associated with an increased risk of death and disability from heart disease , stroke , congestive heart failure , and end-stage renal disease.
For most people, high blood pressure is marked by a systolic blood pressure (higher number) at or above 140 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure (lower number) at or above 90 mmHg. For persons with diabetes and certain other disorders, the “target” for blood pressure is kept lower; for many of these individuals, the normal blood pressure should be under 135 mmHg (systolic) and under 85 mmHg (diastolic).
Risk factors for high blood pressure include the following:
- Age: Middle-aged or elderly
- Race: African American
- Sex: Male
Health background, such as having the following:
- A high-normal blood pressure (systolic pressure of 130-139 mmHg and/or a diastolic pressure of 85-89 mmHg)
- A family history of high blood pressure
Lifestyle factors such as the following:
- Being physically inactive
- Taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
- Consuming more than recommended amounts of dietary sodium and alcohol
- Consuming insufficient amounts of potassium
Lifestyle Guidelines to Prevent or Reduce High Blood Pressure
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s National High Blood Pressure Education Program (NHBPEP) has updated its recommendations to prevent high blood pressure. The recommendations, published in the October 16, 2002 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association , include the following:
- Having an adequate intake of potassium (more than 3,500 mg of potassium per day)
- Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products
- Reducing consumption of saturated fat and total fat
NHBPEP also reinforces earlier recommendations, including the following:
- Limiting consumption of sodium and alcohol
- Reducing excess body weight
- Increasing levels of physical activity
These lifestyle guidelines are essential for seniors and anyone else who is at risk for developing high blood pressure. Another approach currently endorsed by NHBPEP is use of the DASH diet , a special low salt diet which has been shown effective in both preventing and treating high blood pressure.
Report Addresses Less Proven Approaches
The NHBPEP report also addresses the fact that some widely publicized approaches have less proven or uncertain usefulness in preventing or lowering high blood pressure. These include fish oil (omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids) and calcium supplements, which lower blood pressure only slightly in individuals with hypertension. The report also cautioned that the ability of herbal and botanical supplements to safely lower high blood pressure is unproven and can adversely interact with medications. On a more positive note, a recent study suggests having a small amount of dark chocolate each day may be a tasty way lower you blood pressure a few points.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
The DASH eating plan. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf .
National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://www.nih.gov .
Taubert D, Roesen R, Lehmann C, Jung N, Schömig E. Effects of low habitual cocoa intake on blood pressure and bioactive nitric oxide. A randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2007;298:47-60.
Whelton PK, He J, Appel LJ, et al. Clinical and public health advisory from the National High Blood Pressure Education Program. JAMA. 2002;288:1882-1888.
Last reviewed July 2007 by Craig Clark, DO, FACC, FAHA, FASE
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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