Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Blood pressure is essentially the amount of resistance your blood has to face while going through your arteries. If your arteries are narrow then the heart has to work harder to push blood through them, consecutively increasing the pressure in arteries and therefore developing high blood pressure problems. Hypertension is also known as the ‘silent killer’ because a person suffering from it may not and not observe any symptoms but the constant high blood pressure in arteries may damage brain, heart, eyes, kidneys and blood vessels. Hypertension is quite common and you should probably get your blood pressure checked at least annually because if it is left uncontrolled, you may suffer serious cardiovascular diseases like stroke or heart attacks. Hypertension is of two types:

Primary hypertension: the cause of this type is still unclear but it is believed that genetics, environment and physical changes in body may lead to primary hypertension. If your parents have high blood pressure problems or you have minimal or no physical activity coupled with poor diet rich in salts and saturated fat then your could be at a greater risk. Some changes in body like kidney disorders can also be a reason for increased risk.

Secondary hypertension: this type of hypertension occurs due to a pre existing medical condition(s). Malfunction of kidneys, arteries, heart and endocrine system or pregnancy are major causes.

Symptoms of hypertension:

  1. Dizziness

  2. Shortness of breath

  3. Headaches

  4. Chest pain

  5. Nosebleeds

  6. Blood in urine

  7. Excessive sweating

  8. Irregular heartbeat

  9. Pounding in chest, neck or ears

  10. Nervousness

  11. Blood spots in eyes

  12. Trouble going to sleep

Complications of hypertension:

  1. Heart attack

  2. Organ damage (kidneys, eyes, brain, arteries)

  3. Stroke

  4. Aneurism (bulge in arteries)

  5. Aortic dissection (leaking of blood in aorta)

  6. Memory loss

  7. Sexual dysfunction (erectile dysfunction and loss of libido)

Diet recommendations:

Hypertension is very much influenced by a person’s dietary habits and can easily be managed with a heart healthy diet. Foods rich in sodium, sugar and saturated fats are notorious for exacerbating blood pressure so it’s a good idea to replace them with minimally processed and fiber rich options. There are four major changes in your food preferences that can be beneficial:

  1. Reduce sodium: salt is an important food for regulating body fluids but eating too much salt has been linked to increased risks of high blood pressure and eventually developing CVD. Avoid or limit packaged foods and fast foods as they usually contain high amounts of sodium salt.

  2. Reduce saturated fats: although saturated fats are not as bad as they are thought to be, studies have shown that reducing it may be beneficial for people suffering from hypertension. red meat and full fat dairy are rich sources of saturated fats and should be consumed in limit

  3. Cut back on sugar: too much sugar in diet reduces elasticity of blood vessels which shoots up the blood pressure. Sugar rich diets also promote obesity thus worsening the condition. Packaged drinks, fruit juices, condiments, sugary beverages are things that you should stay away from.

  4. Introduce more vegetarian options: fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber and antioxidants which are great for the heart and body.

Superfoods for hypertension:

  1. Dark chocolates: flavanols in dark chocolates have been found to help relax the blood vessels thus reducing blood pressure. Regular dark chocolates have been shown to lower risk of CVD.

  2. Olive oil: polyphenols in olive oils are known to reduce inflammation and consecutively reduce blood pressure. Olive oil is also low in saturated fats and can be a good option for cooking oil and dressings.

  3. Pistachios: It may seem a bit out of the ordinary but consuming UNSALTED pistachios have shown to lower LDL cholesterol and help blood vessels to relax.

  4. Fatty fish: Fatty fish like mackerel and salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and lower triglycerides.

  5. Beetroot: study finds that beetroot have vasodilatation properties and helps lowering blood pressure.

References and further reading:

Berendsen, Agnes AM, et al. "The dietary approaches to stop hypertension diet, cognitive function, and cognitive decline in American older women." Journal of the American Medical Directors Association 18.5 (2017): 427-432.

Grillo A, Salvi L, Coruzzi P, Salvi P, Parati G. Sodium Intake and Hypertension. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):1970. Published 2019 Aug 21. doi:10.3390/nu11091970

Ha SK. Dietary salt intake and hypertension. Electrolyte Blood Press. 2014;12(1):7-18. doi:10.5049/EBP.2014.12.1.7

Heart.org. 2020. Health Threats From High Blood Pressure. [online] Available at: <https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/health-threats-from-high-blood-pressure> [Accessed 11 July 2020].

Marques, Francine Z., et al. "High-fiber diet and acetate supplementation change the gut microbiota and prevent the development of hypertension and heart failure in hypertensive mice." Circulation 135.10 (2017): 964-977.

Mayo Clinic. 2020. High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) - Symptoms And Causes. [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373410> [Accessed 11 July 2020].

McDermott, A., 2018. Hypertension Chart: Understanding Your Blood Pressure. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/health/blood-pressure-chart> [Accessed 13 July 2020].

Moore, Thomas J., et al. "DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is effective treatment for stage 1 isolated systolic hypertension." Hypertension 38.2 (2001): 155-158.

Who.int. 2019. Hypertension. [online] Available at: <https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hypertension> [Accessed 11 July 2020].