New U.S. government recommendations released last week emphasize that high blood pressure can be prevented largely through lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise.
The guidelines also caution consumers about certain widely publicized approaches to lowering blood pressure such as fish oil capsules and calcium supplements, which only lower blood pressure slightly or in people who already have hypertension.
North Americans can keep blood pressure low if they keep trim, exercise, cut back on saturated fats, limit alcohol and sodium, increase dietary potassium and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Numerous studies have shown these lifestyle changes to be effective in reducing blood pressure in people with normal or slightly high blood pressure readings.
Blood pressure is considered to be high-normal if systolic (the first number in a blood pressure reading) pressure is 130 to 139 mmHg and/or diastolic (the second number in a blood pressure reading) pressure is 85 to 89 mmHg.
This report focused on prevention of hypertension because once a patient develops high blood pressure he or she has to be on medication his/her whole life. Being on medication your whole life means having a poorer quality of life.
The newest recommendations--adding fruits, vegetables and potassium to the diet while decreasing consumption of saturated fats--are based on the results of several new clinical trials. People can increase dietary potassium by consuming fruit, such as bananas and dried apricots that are rich in the mineral.
Epidemiological data suggest that if we could lower the average systolic blood pressure among Americans by 5 mmHg, we'd see a 14% drop in deaths from stroke, a 9% drop in heart disease deaths, and a 7% drop in overall mortality, say researchers.
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