Having high blood pressure is know as the silent killer because you can’t feel it but it is the single best predictor for risk of heart disease and stroke, meaning many people with high blood pressure have a heart attack, stroke, or some other form of cardiovascular issues.
In fact around 30% of people don’t know they have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is also know as hypertension. Sadly, most people in western society will end up getting hypertension due to the bad lifestyle habits we have. Note, I said most as this is not necessarily the fate of everyone, but it does have a high prevalence rate. In just 2 decades hypertension has increased from 37 million to 42 million worldwide.
Blood Pressure is Variable & Tests Can Be Inaccurate
Before getting into the causes of high blood pressure, let’s talk about the variability of blood pressure. You see it’s not something that is the same everyday or even minute to minute because our blood pressure is highly variable.
It’s influenced by the environment we’re in and can be raised by emotions such as fear, anger, and anxiety. It will also change from exposure to the cold and is influencd by exercise. This is normal and that’s why it’s important to get your blood pressure taken more than once.
Doctors don’t commonly do this but your blood pressure should be taken at least 3 times 1-2 minutes apart, then the average of the second and third result can be calculated. Doctors frequently only take one reading and this can be inaccurate, especially since most people get nervous on a visit to the doctor, and of course this raises blood pressure.
This concept of variability and testing blood pressure are just 2 things to keep in mind if you need them in future to assess your own blood pressure results.
Physiological factors associated with cause
There are a few factors that have been determined to affect blood pressure.
- Narrowing of the arteries
- Kidney disease
- Certain medications
- Thyroid disease
These are physiological factors and when it comes to high blood pressure, these factors only affect a minority of the population.
The Most Common Cause Is Unknown
You see, when it comes to high blood pressure, most people have what’s called Essential Hypertension. The cause of essential hypertension is unknown, meaning there are many possible causes but most are still undetermined in the research. Though one thing is definite, diet and lifestyle factors influence the development of high blood pressure.
Of course there are dietary factors that contribute to increased blood pressure and we’ll get to that right now.
Nutritional Factors that Influence Blood Pressure
Excessive Dietary Intake
Overeating and the consumption of energy dense processed foods usually leads to overweight and obesity. Increasing weight and in particular obesity is a major predisposing factor for high blood pressure. Fat cells are not dormant but produce a range of hormones and these include producing more hormones that activate the renin angiotensin aldosterone system, also known as RAAS. The RAAS is the hormone system that regulates your blood pressure and the water balance in the body. A whole range of other factors also occur with increasing weight that may impact blood pressure, two of these are insulin resistance and reduced kidney function. Therefore weight loss itself often helps reduce blood pressure.
High Sodium / Salt Intake
The biggest influencer on blood pressure in the modern diet is sodium intake, and more importantly the imbalance that occurs between sodium and potassium.
Sodium intakes are way above the recommended daily intake and this is largely due to the overconsumption of processed foods, which contain a lot of added salt. Even things that don’t taste salty such as breakfast cereals, have loads of added salt. Excess dietary salt at any stage can promote a progressive increase in blood pressure over your lifespan and because this happens so slowly it can be mistaken for age related blood pressure issues.
Another factor associated with age is that our sensitivity to salt increases. This means we are less able to excrete sodium and therefore retain more of it. This increased sodium retention increases blood pressure. So the message here is to cut down on processed food consumption and it will have a beneficial effect on blood pressure outcomes because it will reduce your salt intake.
Low Vegetable Intake
As a generalisation, when we eat a processed diet we generally aren’t consuming enough vegetables. This is a big issue. Remember above I mentioned that sodium intake is a problem but it is largely due to the imbalance that occurs between sodium and potassium. All the cells in our body need a balance of sodium and potassium to function effectively. You increase sodium and it inhibits potassium from entering the cells.
Studies have shown that you can reduce blood pressure by taking potassium supplements. But you don’t need supplements because what you really need is vegetables.It is always best to get nutrients from food and we get most of our potasssium from vegetables, so be sure to eat plenty of them!
Acute coffee intake can increase blood pressure, that means 6+ cups a day. Research suggests that caffeine is likely the causes of this. Though coffee intake may increase blood pressure, the evidence is not significant enough to say don’t have coffee and most of us don’t consume 6+ cups a day so there probably isn’t really anything to worry about here.
What studies show is that a healthy diet and doing more exercise helps to regulate blood pressure, and we’ll dig into some more dietary aspects in detail in future posts.
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Nutrition & Health Coach
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