This article explains the background behind the increase in hypertension diagnoses and lays out some tips for action.
Here is what the American Heart Association released in the press today:
“Nearly half of U.S. adults could now be classified with high blood pressure, under new definitions.”
So nearly half of American adults are at risk of heart disease as a result of high blood pressure! The American Heart Association released the new guidelines with new thresholds on what is considered high. Doctors will now begin to recommend actions when readings are above 130/80, as opposed to the previous 140/90 limit.
Is this change justified?
The good news is that the American Heart Association is moving in the right direction. The policy makers can no longer ignore the mounting evidence that hypertension and cardiovascular disease are highly correlated.
The bad news is that the causality is reversed with respect to the treatment. Doctors will recommend that weight loss is beneficial, but the typical low calorie diets tend to be low on fat and high on carbohydrates, which happens to be the primary culprit in increasing blood pressure in the first place. To find out why, read on.
Why high blood pressure is a factor in metabolic syndrome
Hypertension today is dominantly associated with a host of metabolic diseases and hormonal abnormalities, which are caused by diets high in refined carbohydrates. It is not a coincidence that diabetics tend to have high blood pressure; it is also prudent to assume obesity comes with high blood pressure.
If hypertension is associated with metabolic diseases, then we should expect insulin levels to be elevated (discussed here and here). As it turns out, studies have shown abnormally elevated insulin levels in hypertensives. In fact, it is so common that doctors refer to it as an “insulin resistant state.”
Tips to reduce hypertension
So we know that what most hypertensives really suffer from is metabolic syndrome, which includes a whole set of diseases and dysfunction caused by diets that keep insulin elevated. So, here are the top 5 tips for reducing hypertension without medication.
Tip 1: Reduce foods that spike insulin levels
This goes hand-in-hand with solving the metabolic syndrome problem. Refined sugar is the primary dietary cause of insulin spikes. It is in almost everything we eat and has become a real public health problem. Work to reduce your sugar intake and blood pressure will drop. A further benefit is that the associated diseases of diabetes and obesity are also alleviated by cutting sugar.
Tip 2: Salt is not the enemy
When we consume salt, we naturally retain more water to maintain the right concentration level of sodium in our blood. So why is it that the kidneys do not respond by excreting the excess water and salt through urine?
It turns out that insulin also signals the kidneys to absorb sodium instead of excreting it through urine. This explains the elevated levels of insulin in hypertensives.
So doctors may advise that you lower your salt intake because the majority of the population gets its primary fuel from carbohydrates, but the real cause is the problem is too much carbohydrates.
Tip 3: Reduce your glycemic load
To allow the kidneys to function properly and excrete excess salt, we need to minimize elevated insulin levels. In general, you an keep your insulin levels low by targeting a diet with a low glycemic load.
Over time this diet will also lower weight to further reduce chronically high blood pressure and reverse metabolic dysfunction.
Tip 4: Drink green tea
Green tea contains flavonoids, a form of antioxidants that work to lower blood pressure, even in overweight people. For a high potency dose, I recommend macha tea, which contains more than ten times the level of flavonoids as an equivalent volume of green tea. There are also studies that attribute a lower risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases with increased consumption of green tea.
Tip 5: Increase intake of good fats
As you reduce carbohydrates to keep insulin levels low, it is a good idea target monounsaturated fats and omega 3 oils. Saturated fats can also be increased in a general carb-restricted diet. Avoid omega 6 oils as the cause inflammation that is typically associated with metabolic syndrome and higher blood pressure.
To get monounsaturated fats, eat avocados and be very generous in your servings of olive oil. For the best sources of omega 3 oil, increase consumption is seafood like salmon. Omega 3 oils are hard to find in quantity if you do not eat seafood; so you can alternatively take an omega 3 dietary supplement to offset this deficiency in your diet.
To wrap it up
In totality, most hypertension is just another marker for metabolic syndrome. It is no surprise then that most of these tips also apply to those wishing to reverse the negative effects of metabolic syndrome. Our food infrastructure is making us sick because of the increased emphasis on refined carbohydrates in our macronutrient composition. Hypertension was very rare in many parts of the world before western culture introduced refined carbohydrates to their diet.
Brands, Michael W., and M. Marlina Manhiani. “Sodium-Retaining Effect of Insulin in Diabetes.” American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology 303.11 (2012): R1101–R1109. PMC. Web. 14 Nov. 2017.
Taubes, Gary. 2009. The Diet Delusion [Kindle version].