Blood pressure – we’ve all heard of it but what do you really know about it? What is blood pressure?

When the body pumps blood through the body, the blood presses against the walls of the arteries causing a force. If blood pressure is high the heart has to work harder to make sure all the body receives adequate amount of blood. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for a heart attack or stroke.

Blood pressure is recorded by 2 levels:

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Systolic (higher number) – the pressure the body pumps blood around the body when the heart beats.

Diastolic (lower number) – the time in between heart beats when the heart is at rest.

  • Optimal blood pressure: 120/80mm Hg
  • Borderline high blood pressure: 130-139/85-89 mm Hg
  • Mild high blood pressure: 140-159/90-99 mm Hg
  • Moderate high blood pressure: 160-179/100-109 mm Hg
  • Severe high blood pressure: 180 or over/110 or over mm Hg

Causes

Whilst there are links to genes playing a role undoubtedly, diet, lifestyle, psychological and the environment are important factors contributing to hypertension.

Lifestyle factors

Smoking – long-term evidence has been shown in the relationship between smoking and hypertension. Smoking one cigarette increases systolic blood pressure. However some evidence has suggested that smokers can have lower blood pressure than non smokers but this is partly due to smokers typically being a normal weight.

Other evidence suggests smoking negatively affects the renal system, which in turn can increase hypertension, so the best advice is to stop!

Stress – learning relaxation techniques have been found to shown to reduce blood pressure. Transcendental Meditation, yoga and breathing exercise have all been found to have a positive effect. Try to find time each day to take time out and concentrate on the breath. It can be 5 minutes or 20 minutes.

Lack of exercise – Studies on populations has regularly found a correlation between physical activity and blood pressure. Further clinical trials have also shown improvement in people with high blood pressure after taking part in regular exercise. Exercise does not have to be intense or for long periods of time. Regular, daily activity for 30 minutes may have a dramatic effect. Walking in nature and being mindful taking the stress link into account means you are coming at it from both angles.

Foods to avoid if you have hypertension

Most importantly if you are overweight then the first goal is to lose weight.

Salt has been linked with hypertension. However the sodium to potassium ratio is the one to look at, eating high intakes of salt and low levels of potassium are highly linked to high blood pressure. Restriction of salt alone has been shown in studies to not be effective unless you are increasing potassium intake as well. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will increase potassium levels. 59815448_l

Caffeine – Evidence can be mixed when it comes to caffeine. It has been seen to show an immediate effect on lowering blood pressure, however drinking coffee or tea regularly may mean the body develops a tolerance to the blood pressure raising effects. This means cutting it out may not impact everyone.

It is worth trying if you have high blood pressure or certainly reducing the amount of caffeine you drink. I recommend all my clients to not have more than 2 cups of coffee or tea a day. I also recommend drinking the best quality coffee or tea, poor quality coffee contains anti-nutrients such as moulds and they may be having more of a negative impact on your health than the caffeine.

High sugar diet may be linked to hypertension – 25% of people with type 1 diabetes have high blood pressure and 80% with type 2 diabetes.

When you produce too much insulin due to a high sugar and refined carbohydrates in your diet, cells eventually stop listening and become resistant to the insulin. Insulin stores magnesium, if insulin is in effect not needed, you are unable to store magnesium and it is then excreted through urine. Magnesium has been closely linked to lower blood pressure. Fructose in the form of high corn fructose syrup may also may have a similar effect.

Avoid all white refine carbohydrates such as white, rice, bread, sugar, pasta and baked goods. Increase magnesium rich foods such as green leafy vegetables in the form of broccoli, kale and cauliflower.

Low intake of calcium has also been linked to high blood pressure. Eat sesame seeds, humus, chickpeas, apricots, plain natural yoghurt, bone broth and fish with bones for a regular intake of calcium.

Not eating enough fibre may be a reason for high blood pressure. Researchers have found from looking at a number of studies on high fibre diet a correlation with low blood pressure. Eat more fruit, vegetables, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, oats, pulses, lentils, nuts and seeds to increase your fibre content.

Flaxseeds in particular have been found to help lower blood pressure. A study where half the volunteers were give a placebo of a biscuit made without flaxseed and the other half with flaxseed found the flaxseeds group had a consistent drop in blood pressure compared to the placebo.

Alcohol has been found to be a risk factor for hypertension. Reduce alcohol content – try to have alcohol free days and do not binge drink. If you have high blood pressure try to avoid completely the blood pressure foods.

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