12.3 Diet and Heath: Hypertension

By: Christine Dobrowolski

- welcome to the third section in our series on diet and health. This section is covering hypertension. Hypertension is high blood pressure, and the way pressure goes up within the vascular system is forced by the amount of pumping that comes from the heart. So both the strength and force of contraction of the heart pumping blood will increase the pressure. The size of the arteries matters; the smaller the size the more constriction and that also increases the pressure. The amount of volume, which is the volume of the fluid within the vessels, also increases the pressure. And we talk about the vessel size.

You can look at the example of the normal vessel size, and if you have the same blood flow through a normal vessel and then that vessel essentially constricted, all of the sudden you're trying to push the same amount of fluid through a smaller space. Now, that's going to lead to a higher pressure. A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury. And generally we like to think about even a healthy blood pressure as being 115/75. As soon as it's over 120 or 80, you're into the pre-hypertension range. High blood pressure is 140/90 millimeters of mercury. There are two numbers.

This top number is called the systolic blood pressure where this bottom number here is the diastolic blood pressure. The systolic pressure means that it's the pressure when your heart is contracting. If you think about your heart it is pumping, right? so when it pumps it pushes blood out. When it pumps and pushes blood out there is one pressure. You can feel these different pressures, that pressure, if you take your pulse.

Put your hand right here you can feel your pulse, you're going to feel that beating. Well, that beat is the blood going into your arteries throughout your system and that is the systolic pressure. That's one pressure. Then the heart relaxes. The chambers fill and that is called the diastolic pressure, so it's the resting pressure or the filling pressure. And that's what these two numbers represent. Well, the risk factors, remember these are the variables, the factors that contribute to the development of hypertension and they are many, but they include atherosclerosis.

12.3 Diet and Heath: Hypertension

Now, notice and remember back that hypertension was a risk factor for atherosclerosis, but atherosclerosis is a risk factor for hypertension. So it's almost like this circular disease progression. Obesity, insulin resistance, age, genetics, race, sedentary behavior, dietary factors, excess alcohol, and stress. A lot of risk factors, so remember there's no single one cause. There are a number of causes that contribute to the development of hypertension. Now, when we think about how to lower blood pressure we want think about some dietary or lifestyle modifiable risk factors, lifestyle risk factors. So lowering sodium intake, the reason is that water follows sodium. That means that in the body wherever sodium goes water goes, so the more sodium that's in the body, in the bloodstream, the more fluid that's going to be in there.

Remember that increase in fluid, increase in volume, increases pressure. Now, weight loss for obesity is a risk factor for hypertension. Moderate alcohol intake. Excess alcohol intake is actually a fairly powerful risk factor for elevating blood pressure. Increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and this has to do with some particular minerals i'll talk about next. If you have more potassium and calcium, magnesium, that actually helps balance out the amount of sodium.

And it's been shown that you can actually have a fair amount of sodium in your diet if you have an abundance of fresh whole fruits and vegetables because you're getting so many more nutrients to help balance out that effect, so intake of fresh whole fruits and vegetables. Reducing intake of fat, and this is actually mostly in regards to our processed fats and some saturated fats. So not necessarily omega-3 fatty acids; they really haven't been linked to lower blood pressure and as i just mentioned, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Physical activity; this is a really powerful risk factor is people who are very sedentary definitely have a greater risk of having higher blood pressure. The more active you are; that means your heart will be stronger, it will be more efficient, and we actually end up having a lower blood pressure. So athletes typically have both lower heart rates and lower blood pressure.

And it's because their heart is stronger. They can push out more blood through that contraction of the heart than a weaker heart. Just like if you lifted weights in the gym you would get a bigger muscle, you could lift more weight. Same thing; you're heart can get stronger, can pump out more blood. I'm going to finish with the "dash diet." and the reason i bring this up is because this diet, which is the dietary approach to stop hypertension. This approach has been shown to be better ar reducing blood pressure than just reducing sodium alone. Now, the reason is because of what i just mentioned.

Because it has an abundance of fresh whole fruits and vegetables, so a dash diet focuses on plant food, lean meats, an abundance of fresh whole non-processed fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Not bread or cereal, i mean, whole grains such as brown or wild rice. The findings were fairly dramatic that the blood pressure will actually go down, and again it's because there's an increase of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin c. Theoretically that is the theory behind the diet because it helps balance out some of the sodium.

Where do we get most of our sodium? from processed foods, so if you cut out the processed foods and you bring in all of the whole foods than you are going to have a better profile of your minerals and your electrolytes. And all of that will contribute to fluid balance. And this is going to be the end of our section on hypertension.

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