What Is Hypertension? And Other Common Questions
I’m taking pills, so I’m fine. I don’t need a heart healthy diet.” That’s how many people with hypertension, or high blood pressure, feel. Get answers to these and other common questions about hypertension and hypertension control.
When not controlled, hypertension is a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, and premature death. Yet many people can get their blood pressure down – and keep it down – without the need for pills by following a healthy lifestyle like the Pritikin Program. Below are some of the most common questions about hypertension with answers by the Pritikin faculty.
Common Hypertension Questions
What is hypertension? Is it the same as high blood pressure?
To understand hypertension (also known as high blood pressure), it is important to understand the heart. The heart is a pump. It pumps blood through our arteries, sending nourishment to all parts of our body. A pump works by generating pressure. But too much pressure is a problem. Too much force pushing against arterial walls, called hypertension, can strain the arteries and the heart itself.
Why is hypertension a problem?
The higher your blood pressure, the higher your risk of stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and even, new research has found, dementia. Hypertension contributes to heart attacks and strokes by damaging the inner walls of the arteries and by speeding up the inflammatory process. Hypertension is the #1 risk factor for strokes.
How did you get hypertension?
This is one of the most common hypertension questions. It’s easy to get hypertension if you live in the United States and other affluent countries, like England, where most citizens eat diets high in salt and fat and low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. An American’s lifetime risk of developing hypertension is close to 90%, reports the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Nearly half of U.S. adults have hypertension. And kids, heavier than ever, are being diagnosed with soaring blood pressure like never before.
What are the symptoms of hypertension?
That’s part of the problem. Hypertension usually causes no symptoms, so over time severe damage to your arteries, heart, and brain can occur before the condition is diagnosed.
Is hypertension inevitable? The natural result of aging?
For years, that’s what we thought. Physicians were taught in medical school that blood pressure normally increases with age.
But in recent years anthropologists have found a wide variety of primitive people who consumed diets with little or no added salt and whose blood pressure did not rise with age. They included Eskimos, the Masai of Africa, New Guinea Highlanders, and African Bushman. Among these populations, hypertension was virtually unknown. Scientists observed that the only time blood pressure rose with age was when people from these normally hypertension-free populations abandoned their traditional diets and starting eating modern diets dense with calories and full of highly salted foods.
Hypertension Treatment Questions
Won’t pills cure the problem?
Not really. Keep in mind that hypertension increases your risk of dying from cardiovascular-related disease, like heart attacks and strokes, by 300% and more. Diuretics – considered by many scientists to be the best drug treatment for most hypertensives – decreases your risk of dying by only 19%.
Pills as a treatment for hypertension have hardly solved the problem. Even if you’re taking pills, your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease is still at least two to three times higher than that of people whose blood pressure is optimal – 110/70 or less.
Is there a cure for hypertension?
You cannot “cure” hypertension, but there’s a very good chance that with lifestyle treatment (the right diet, losing weight, regular exercise) you can get hypertension under control and significantly lower your risk of developing life-threatening diseases.
Lifestyle treatment, such as the Pritikin Program, can reduce blood pressure more than drugs and dramatically lower the risk of diabetes, heart attacks, cancer, and stroke.
What’s the right diet for hypertension treatment?
Several studies funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute have found that the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension), which is very similar to the Pritikin Eating Plan, lowers blood pressure as well as or better than any drug. Both DASH and Pritikin promote menus that are low in fats, salt, cholesterol, red meat, and sweets; high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans; and moderate in seafood, poultry, nuts, and low-fat or nonfat dairy foods.
More than 100 studies published in peer-reviewed journals on the Pritikin Program have found that this eating, exercise, and lifestyle treatment also substantially lowers the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes because it reduces key cardiovascular risk factors, including cholesterol, triglycerides (blood fats), inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein, blood sugar, insulin, oxidative stress, and yes, hypertension.
How much salt (sodium) should I cut out of my diet?
Landmark research by the National Institutes of Health compared the DASH diet with varying levels of sodium (3,300, 2,400, and 1,500 mg a day) and found that the biggest reductions in blood pressure for everyone – people with hypertension as well as those with blood pressure readings as low as 120/80 – occurred in those individuals on the 1,500 mg-of-sodium-a-day diet.
So compelling are the data on the blood-pressure-controlling benefits of a low-sodium diet that the American Heart Association now recommends a daily sodium consumption limit of less than 1,500 mg a day for all Americans.
For more than 50 years, the Pritikin Program has recommended that people consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
What are the results of the Pritikin Program on hypertension?
Blood pressure falls so dramatically, studies on the Pritikin Program have found, that many people no longer require hypertension drugs, or have their dosages significantly reduced. In a study of 1,117 hypertensives who attended the Pritikin Longevity Center for two to three weeks, systolic blood pressure (the top number) fell on average 9%. Diastolic pressure (the bottom number) fell 9%. Of those patients on hypertension drugs, 55% returned home free of their drugs. Many of the remaining 45% returned home with markedly reduced dosages.