How To Stop Hypertension Before it Starts

As you probably already know, November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and the theme for this year is: “Be Smart About Your Heart: Control the ABCs of Diabetes.” 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 already reviewed the A1c test in an earlier article, so here we discuss blood pressure, and more specifically, prehypertension. 

Find out if you’re 1 of 3 American adults who has prehypertension, higher than normal blood pressure, but not yet in the high blood pressure range. ( Prehypertension often goes unaddressed, but even in young people, relatively small increases in blood pressure above normal ranges are associated with preclinical cardiovascular disease.1

What is prehypertension?

Know your numbers! Prehypertension is defined as systolic blood pressure (BP) between 120 and 139 mmHg and diastolic BP between 85 and 89 mmHg. Blood pressure is measured using two numbers, so if your BP is 122 over 87 that’s considered prehypertension. 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 prehypertension out of concern it may cause patient anxiety or lead to unnecessary medical visits.2 However, research shows that people who have diabetes and prehypertension are nearly four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, compared to people without either condition.

Know your category:

  • Systolic: less than 120mmHg
  • Diastolic: less than 80mmHg
  • Systolic:120mmHg -139mmHg
  • Diastolic: 80-89mmHg
  • Systolic:140mmHg or higher
  • Diastolic: 90mmHg or higher

Why should I be concerned?

Prevention is always easier than trying to reverse a new condition. It is easier to address prehypertension now, rather than when 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 348,000 American deaths in 2009 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 High blood pressure is an important modifiable risk factor contributing to heart disease! According to the Strong Heart Study, people with prehypertension 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 to talk to your doctor about prehypertension:

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 prehypertension category, then discuss a plan of action! Prehypertension is a treatable risk factor for cardiovascular diseases that people with diabetes should become educated about. Not everyone with prehypertension 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. Also 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 research the best doctor, do some research to find an RDN who has a treatment philosophy that works with yours. Registered dietitians can help you set your own realistic and personalized health goals to feel your best and live a healthy lifestyle.

What can I do if I discover I have prehypertension?

Take action! Early intervention with healthy lifestyle changes is essential to slow down or stop the progression to hypertension. Lifestyle changes are the best recommendation.

1) Relax. Make sure you are in a relaxed position when getting your blood pressure taken, don’t have your feet dangle or fidget. Take a deep breath and think calming thoughts to avoid the “white-coat reaction.”

2) Read food labels. Don’t be lured by the packaging or claims on the front of the label. Read the nutrition facts and ingredients. Most of the sodium we eat is hiding in everyday foods! When buying tomato sauce, pick up a few 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 made with no added salt in place of bread when you have eggs for a tasty and low-salt breakfast.

3) Get spicy. 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! Just like you flavor tomato sauce, try flavoring other dishes with fresh herbs and spices 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 much antioxidants as a cup of green grapes, and 3 times as much as a cup of cooked carrots.5

4) Say OM! 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 more calm throughout the day. Even reducing your blood pressure numbers by just a few points can help reduce your risk of coronary events.

5) Boost your plant power! You can significantly lower your blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and coronary heart disease risk by making changes in your diet. The OmniHeart study found that the best diet for reducing blood pressure included lots of 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 to eat healthy as a family.

If you do find out you have pre-hypertension, remember you can reverse it! Start by eating more real foods, try to lose just a few pounds if you’re overweight, and be more naturally active!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
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