For the first time, high blood pressure that is uncontrolled is more common in women than in men—yet women are less likely to be prescribed treatment, such as blood pressure-lowering medication. High blood pressure, or hypertension, doesn't hurt or cause other obvious warning signs, but it damages arteries in ways that can lead to stroke, heart attack, kidney problems and cognitive impairment. More concerns for women…
- Hypertension now affects nearly one in four American women. Rates in women are rising even as rates in men are falling
About 35% of women who have hypertension go untreated.
- Blood pressure is the force that blood exerts against the arterial walls. It is reported as two numbers. The top number, or systolic pressure, is the pressure as the heart pumps. The bottom number, or diastolic pressure, is the pressure as the heart rests between beats. Normal, healthy blood pressure is below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg)...hypertension is diagnosed at 140/90 mmHg or higher.
Problem: Up to 70% of people who are told that they are fine because their blood pressure is in the "high normal" range actually are at serious risk. Systolic pressure of 120 to 139 and/or diastolic pressure of 80 to 89 indicates prehypertension —which often progresses to hypertension.
Good news: You can significantly reduce blood pressure by changing what you eat. You must do more than just cut back on salt-although following this common advice helps—but the simple strategies below are worth the effort.
If you already have hypertension or have "high normal" blood pressure...are at risk due to being overweight or having a family history of blood pressure problems...or simply want to be as healthy as possible, this diet is for you.
Bonus: These habits often lead to weight loss—which also lowers blood pressure.
- Berries. Berries are high in polyphenols, micronutrients that relax blood vessels.
Study: Hypertension patients who ate berries daily for two months lowered their systolic blood pressure by up to seven points—which could reduce risk for heart-related death by up to 15%.
Action: Eat one cup of fresh or frozen berries daily.
- Fat-free milk. A study found that people who ingested the greatest amounts of low-fat dairy were 56% less likely to develop hypertension than those who ate the least.
Theory: The active components may be the milk proteins whey and/or casein, which help blood vessels dilate.
Action: Have eight to 16 ounces of fat-free milk per day. Evidence suggests that fat-free milk is best-higher fat milk and other dairy products may not work as well.
- Potassium-rich fruits and vegetables. Potassium counteracts the blood pressure-raising effects of sodium.
New study: Prehypertension patients with the highest sodium-to-potassium intake were up to 50% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease within 10 to 15 years, compared with those who had the lowest ratio.
Action: Among the generally recommended five or so daily servings of fruits and vegetables, include some potassium-rich choices, such as bananas, citrus fruits, lima beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes (with skin), tomatoes and yams. Talk to your doctor before increasing potassium if you take blood pressure or heart medication (diuretic, ACE inhibitor or ARB blocker) or if you have kidney problems.
- Fiber. Studies suggest that fiber lowers blood pressure, though the mechanism is unknown. The fiber must come from food-fiber supplements do not offer the same benefit.
Action: Check food labels, and aim for at least 25 grams of fiber daily.
Good sources: Whole fruits (juice has less fiber)...raw or lightly cooked vegetables (overcooking reduces fiber)...beans and lentils... high-fiber breakfast cereals...and whole grains, such as barley, brown rice, oats, quinoa and whole wheat.
- Meat. Often high in cholesterol and saturated fat, meat contributes to the buildup of plaque inside arteries-a condition called atherosclerosis. Hypertension significantly increases the risk that atherosclerosis will lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Action: If you have been diagnosed with both atherosclerosis and hypertension, a good way to reduce your cardiovascular risk is to adopt a vegetarian or ncar-vegetarian diet.
Also: Avoid other sources of saturated fats, such as high-fat dairy, and palm oil.
If you are concerned about getting enough protein, increase your intake of plant proteins.
Good sources: Soy foods (edamame, soy milk, tofu)...beans, lentils, peas...nuts and seeds.
If you have hypertension or prehypertension but no atherosclerosis, limit yourself to three weekly four-ounce servings of animal protein. Stick with low-fat meat, fish or poultry.
- Salt. Sodium raises blood pressure by increasing blood volume and constricting blood vessels. Some people are more sensitive to salt than others—but limiting dietary salt is a good idea for everyone.
Recommended: Healthy people up to age 50 should limit sodium to 2,300 mg per day (about one teaspoon of salt)...older people and anyone with prehypertension or hypertension should stay under 1,500 mg daily (about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt).
Action: Instead of salt, add flavor with pepper, garlic and other seasonings. Do not use seasoning blends that contain salt. Avoid processed and canned foods unless labeled "low sodium."
Pros And Cons Of...
- Red wine. Like berries, red wine contains heart-healthy polyphenols.
But: Polyphenols relax blood vessels only when exposure time is short, as with light-to-moderate alcohol consumption. Heavy drinking actually reduces the blood vessels' ability to relax, negating polyphenols' benefits.
Advised: If you choose to drink alcohol, opt for red wine and have no more than one glass per day.
Alcohol-free option: Polyphenol-rich unsweetened dark grape juice.
- Coffee, tea and soda. Some evidence links caffeine to increased blood pressure.
Advised: Opt for caffeine-free beverages.
Good choice: Herbal tea. A recent study suggests that drinking three cups daily of a blend that includes the herb hibiscus can lower systolic blood pressure by about seven points.
- Chocolate. Small studies suggest that dark chocolate helps lower blood pressure.
Theory: Cocoa contains antioxidant procyanidins, which boost the body's production of nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes blood vessels.
But: Chocolate is high in sugar and fat, both of which contribute to weight gain.
Advised: If you want an occasional dessert, a small piece one-half ounce) of dark chocolate is a good choice.
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