High stakes of hypertension
High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, peripheral artery disease, sexual dysfunction, and kidney and eye disease.
Blood pressure is measured as two numbers. The first number is the systolic pressure and the second number is the diastolic. Ideally, blood pressure should be below 120/80.
In many cases, high blood pressure can be avoided before it starts, and it’s important to address blood pressure before it creeps into the danger zone. Doctors now recognize that having even mildly elevated blood pressure (prehypertension) can raise the risk of many chronic health conditions.
Some studies have suggested that protein, especially from plants, could help lower blood pressure. To test this idea further, Dutch scientists recruited overweight people with prehypertension and low-grade hypertension to take part in a study that investigated the effect of substituting calories from carbohydrates with protein.
For four weeks, the 94 participants took 60 grams of protein from a supplement (consisting of 20% pea, 20% soy, 30% egg, and 30% milk protein isolate), or 60 grams of maltodextrin (a type of carbohydrate) each day. They were asked to follow similar diets, so the major difference between the groups was the amount of protein and carbohydrates that they consumed.
Blood pressure measurements were taken before the supplements were started and after the treatment period, both in-office and throughout the day as people went about their normal activities.
At the end of the treatment period, in-office systolic blood pressure was about 5 points lower and diastolic pressure was almost 3 points lower in the protein group compared with the maltodextrin group. Daytime systolic blood pressure was almost 5 points lower in the protein group, but there was no difference in daytime diastolic blood pressure readings between the groups.
Studies have shown that a 5-point reduction in systolic blood pressure could translate to a 14% lower chance of dying from a stroke and a 9% lower chance of heart disease-related death.
We’re still finding out how protein affects blood pressure, but there are plenty of other blood pressure-lowering strategies that have stood the test of time. Here are a few:
Lose weight. Losing as little as ten pounds can help lower blood pressure, especially if you are overweight and have high blood pressure.
Eat right. Diet plays a critical role in maintaining normal blood pressure, from helping you stay at a healthy weight to providing essential nutrients for heart and blood vessel health. Foods that are rich in magnesium, potassium, and fiber—like beans, spinach, bananas, potatoes, whole grains, and nuts—help lower blood pressure naturally.
Exercise. Getting 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on five or more days of the week helps keep blood pressure in check. Plus, exercise raises heart-healthy HDL-cholesterol, increases insulin sensitivity (decreasing the risk of diabetes), and helps get rid of that spare tire.
Don’t smoke. Besides raising your risk for several cancers, smoking damages blood vessels and worsens high blood pressure. Just one year after quitting smoking, your risk of heart disease will be cut in half.
(Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95:966–71)