High blood pressure and the link to diet

Blood pressureHigh blood pressure is a burgeoning problem in today’s medical system. It’s become so common that  many people believe that if you’re over 50, it’s normal to be taking some kind of medication to control blood pressure. But it’s not normal. High blood pressure puts stress on the blood vessels and the heart, potentially leading to stroke, heart attack and kidney dysfunction.

Hypertension is usually treated with a variety of drugs, including ACE inhibitors, diuretics and channel blockers. However, research is showing that even with this intervention, the reduction in mortality is only 5%[1], an extremely low number considering the number of people who regularly take these medications and an indication that there must be more to this story.

Often, the true reasons for hypertension remain unknown – this is known as idiopathic hypertension. It’s believed to be a combination of genetics, hormonal and environmental factors that are the cause. At other times, there are known reasons for it to occur – obesity being one of them.

Excess salt in the diet is traditionally blamed for high blood pressure due to its osmotic affect on water. But although it definitely plays some part, research is exposing other, more ubiquitous foods that are involved, and are more to blame.

What does diet have to do with it?

A typical Australian dinner plate contains large amounts of carbohydrates, generally in the form of bread, rice and pasta. The food pyramid is skewed to include these foods as the major part of our diet, but they are not what we should be basing meals around. These carbohydrate rich and often very refined foods, are inflammatory to the body and stimulate the release of large amounts of insulin, the hormone required for our bodies to absorb the huge level of sugars that these foods contain.

Over time, diets that are rich in processed and refined carbohydrates, create high levels of both insulin and leptin (a hormone that is involved in appetite regulation) and these in turn, increase blood pressure. Studies have shown repeatedly that where insulin resistance (a prediabetic condition) is present, hypertension is far more likely to be an issue as well. The same is true for leptin levels. [2]

Avoid hypertension caused by excessive insulin and leptin secretion.

Unfortunately, some dietary advice and even the food pyramid itself is quite outdated. Carbohydrate rich foods should NOT make up most of the diet of modern humans. The best diet to support blood vessel health and wellbeing is one where there are:

–          At least 5 servings of fresh vegies per day. These should not be canned or frozen.

–          1 or 2 serves of fresh fruit.

–          Include a serve of high quality protein with each meal. Include servings of good fats daily. These include nuts, eggs, avocado, etc.

–          Have fish 2 to 3 times a week.

–          Reduce or remove sugar from the diet. This includes sugar added to coffee or tea, sweets, cakes/biscuits and lollies.

–          Avoid carbohydrate rich foods – breads, cereals, pasta. Use wholemeal products if breads and cereals must be used – brown rice, wholemeal bread and pasta.

These guidelines support a healthy metabolism and reduce the reliance of the body on pure carbohydrate for energy and switch it to fat burning mode, which reduces insulin and leptin resistance, promoting an environment that supports blood pressure regulation.

Where possible, consume wholefoods and where accessible, organic produce is always best.


[1] Ferrari R, Boersma E. Expert Rev Cardiovasc Ther 2013; 11(6): 705-717[2] Galletti, F et al. High circulatin leptin levels are associated with greater risk of hypertension in men independently of body mass and insulin resistance: results of an eight year follow up study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Oct;93(10):3922-6