How To Stop Hypertension Before it Starts
Managing the diabetes ABCs – which are the A1C test, Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, and Stop Smoking – can help lower one’s risk for heart disease. We reviewed the A1c test in an earlier article, so here we discuss blood pressure, and more specifically, elevated blood pressure.
Did you know that 1 in 3 American adults have hypertension, also known as high blood pressure? Even youth are getting diagnosed with hypertension! In 2017, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association changed the diagnostic criteria for elevated blood pressure (previously referred to as prehypertension) and hypertension, decreasing the cutoff ranges. With these changes, more people have received the diagnosis of elevated or high blood pressure to get preventive care.
Elevated blood pressure often goes unaddressed, but even in young people, relatively small increases in blood pressure above normal ranges are associated with preclinical cardiovascular disease.1 If you are one of the many Americans who has been diagnosed with elevated blood pressure, here is what you need to know.
What is high blood pressure?
Know your numbers! Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. Elevated, or higher than normal blood pressure, but not yet in the high blood pressure range, is defined as systolic blood pressure (BP) between 120 and 129 mmHg and diastolic BP less than 80 mmHg. So, if your BP is 122/79 mmHG that’s considered elevated. Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats, and diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats.
Some health care providers may avoid using the term elevated blood pressure due to concern that it may cause patient anxiety or lead to unnecessary medical visits.2 However, research shows that people who have diabetes and elevated blood pressure are nearly four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, compared to people without either condition.
Know your category:
|High Blood Pressure, Stage 1|
|High Blood Pressure, Stage 2|
Why should I be aware of my blood pressure levels?
Prevention is always easier than treating and trying to reverse a new condition. Prevent or address elevated blood pressure now, rather than waiting until it advances to full-blown hypertension. There’s a reason that high blood pressure is known as “the silent killer”. Despite not causing many physical symptoms, more than 360,000 American deaths in 2013 included high blood pressure as a primary or contributing cause. About seventy percent of people who have their first heart attack, and about eighty percent of people who have their first stroke, also have high blood pressure.3 Data from 2013-2016 revealed that 116.4 million US adults (46% of the US adult population) have hypertension. High blood pressure is an important modifiable risk factor contributing to heart disease. According to the Strong Heart Study, people with elevated blood pressure were almost twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease, and those with diabetes were almost three-times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, compared with those without these conditions.4
How can I talk to my doctor about my blood pressure?
If you hear that your blood pressure is “high normal,” don’t be fooled by the word “normal.” Ask your doctor if your blood pressure is in the elevated category, then discuss a plan of action. Elevated blood pressure is a treatable risk factor for cardiovascular disease that people with diabetes should learn about. Not everyone with elevated blood pressure has the same risks for development of cardiovascular disease, so individual treatment is important. Ask your doctor to discuss your risk factors, and what you can do to reduce your blood pressure. There are more solutions than just medication! Request a referral to see a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), preferably one who is a certified diabetes educator (CDE) or who works mostly with patients with diabetes. Just like you do your research to find the best doctor, do some research to find an RDN who has a treatment philosophy that matches your own. Registered dietitians can help you set realistic and personalized health goals to feel your best and live a healthy lifestyle.
What can I do if I discover I have elevated blood pressure?
Take action! Early intervention with healthy lifestyle changes is essential to slow down or stop the progression to hypertension. Lifestyle changes are the best approach.
Make sure you are in a relaxed position when getting your blood pressure taken, and don’t fidget or have your feet dangling. Take a deep breath and think calming thoughts to avoid the “white-coat reaction.”
Read food labels
Don’t be lured by packaging or claims on food products. Read the nutrition facts label and ingredients. Most of the sodium we eat is hiding in everyday foods! When buying tomato sauce, glance at a few different brands and compare sodium levels. Pick the one that has the lowest sodium, but that’s not too high in sugar. Then add fresh or dried basil leaves and garlic to enhance the flavor. Consider toasting hard shell corn tacos without added salt in place of bread when you have eggs for a tasty and low-salt breakfast.
The USDA dietary guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, the equivalent of about 1 teaspoon of salt, and it can add up quickly! Use that same tomato sauce flavoring trick to flavor other dishes with fresh herbs, spices, or a splash of lemon or lime juice rather than salt. You’ll be boosting flavor, cutting back on salt, and getting the added benefits of antioxidants. Two tablespoons of dried basil have 2 times as many antioxidants as a cup of green grapes, and 3 times as many as a cup of cooked carrots.5 Try diets like the DASH or Mediterranean diet which are lower in sodium.
Try incorporating yoga into your schedule. One recent study found that yoga reduced blood pressure in those with hypertension.6 Start slowly with some simple meditation and deep breathing. Even when you’re waiting at stop lights or stuck in traffic, you can take some deep yoga breaths. These simple additions can help you feel calmer throughout the day. Reducing your blood pressure numbers by just a few points can help reduce your risk of coronary events.
Boost your plant power!
You can significantly lower your blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and coronary heart disease risk by making changes to your diet. The OmniHeart study found that the best diet for reducing blood pressure included healthy carbohydrates, protein (half from plant sources), and unsaturated fats.7
Choose more anti-inflammatory foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and unsaturated fats. The best part is, you’ll also be lowering your cancer risk, since 1 in 3 cancers are preventable through a healthy diet, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight. If you have kids, try making these plant-based recipes together and eat healthy as a family.
If you do find out you have elevated blood pressure, remember you can reverse it and be on your way toward better health! Start by eating more real foods, try to lose just a few pounds if you’re overweight, and be more naturally active!
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