High blood pressure (hypertension) is an alarming problem in Australia. It is actually responsible for more trips to the doctor – and medical prescriptions – than any other condition. Latest figures indicate that hypertension affects 30% of Australian adults aged 25 and over, with more than half of these cases going untreated. Often called the ‘silent killer’, the consequences of high blood pressure are serious in that it is a precursor to many health conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure/heart attack, as well as kidney disease. Heart disease is currently our leading cause of death and disability in Australia.
The good news is that modifying your diet and lifestyle can have a large impact on blood pressure levels, enabling you to keep your heart healthy and functioning at its best.
What is Blood Pressure?
Since we cannot physically feel what high blood pressure feels like and can go undetected for so long, it’s important to know your blood pressure and be aware if it’s too high. Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the inner walls of the arteries as it is pumped around the body. It is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and is recorded as two numbers, for example 120 over 80. These two numbers in a blood pressure reading are the systolic and diastolic pressures. The larger number (systolic) indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart squeezes out blood at each beat and is a stronger, more consistent predictor of cardiovascular events than, such as stroke, than the diastolic pressure.. The lower number (diastolic) indicates the pressure as the heart relaxes before the next beat. Your blood pressure can change regularly; therefore, it is important to have regular checks with your doctor of health professional.
The following figures can give you a guide to blood pressure readings:
Less than 120
Less than 80
Causes of high blood pressure
The prevalence and susceptibility of hypertension increases with age and for unknown reasons is higher in African-American individuals. Other risk factors include:
- Family history
- Cigarette smoking
- Overweight and obesity
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- High sodium (salt) intake
- Glucose intolerance (often in people with type 2 diabetes)
- Kidney disease
- Lack of exercise
The effects of high blood pressure on the arteries are worsened by: cigarette smoking, high levels of saturated fat in the diet, high blood cholesterol and diabetes.
Steps to control/lower blood pressure
1. Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If you’re unsure of your blood pressure ask for a quick, free blood pressure check at Absolute Health Solutions while you are waiting for your appointment or ask about AHS’s 20 minute Healthy Heart Check with our Dietitian, Robbie Clark.2.
Make dietary improvements such as:
a. Increase your fruit and veg intake – Healthy blood pressure requires us to maintain the right balance of minerals. This means less sodium, more calcium and magnesium and importantly, more potassium. Potassium lessens the effect of sodium on blood pressure and is found in a lot of fruit and veg.
b. Increase consumption of wholefoods (fresh fruit and vegetables and wholegrains) for a rich source of fibre, essential nutrients such as potassium and magnesium and antioxidants to control inflammatory processes in the blood vessels. Fibre reduces BP and cholesterol absorption, maintains a healthy bowel function, slows weight gain and lowers blood sugar levels.
c. Boost your Omega-3 intake – Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and help to relax the walls of blood vessels so they can expand as blood rushes through, thus helping the flow of blood around the body. You will find your omega-3 fats in canola oils, walnuts and flaxseeds, and in oily fish like tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies and mackerel. Try to consume fatty cold water fish three times per week, or use a good quality EPA/DHA supplement, to support cardiovascular health, to support cardiovascular health including blood circulation and blood vessel and heart health as well as improve the HDL:LDL ratio to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
d. Limit your salt intake – Australians consume way over the recommended dietary intake of sodium. Restrict sodium intake to less than 4g/day. Salt restriction can reduce systolic blood
pressure by approximately 4–5 mmHg in people with high blood pressure and 2 mmHg in people with regular blood pressure. This means avoid adding salt to meals and at the table, and processed foods like bread, sauces, breakfast cereals, cheese, soups and processed meat, and choose reduced or low salt products.
e. Consume more protein and less high GI carbohydrates – this may help manage insulin sensitivity (a major risk factor for high blood pressure).
f. Choose foods high in potassium (potatoes, avocados, bananas, oranges, prunes, red beans) – these tend to assist lowering blood pressure.
g. Include cocoa and other phytonutrients – these are useful for reducing inflammation and plaque formation
3. Maintain a healthy body weight – Excess weight has been found to be the main cause of high blood pressure in obese and overweight people. Men should aim for waist circumference < 94cm, women should target < 80cm.
4. Reduce Caffeine intake – regularly caffeine consumption can elevate blood pressure. The National Heart Foundation recommends limiting intake of caffeinated drinks to no more than one or two cups of coffee, tea or cola per day.
5. Don’t smoke – Smoking injures blood vessel walls and speeds up the process of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which may lead to increases in blood pressure.
6. Limit alcohol consumption – Many studies have shown that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Guidelines suggest that males with high blood pressure should limit alcohol consumption to no more than two standard drinks per day, while females with high blood pressure should limit their intake to one standard drink per day
7. Exercise regularly – Being physically active every day can reduce high blood pressure as much as some anti-hypertensive drugs. Just 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity exercise – like walking, cycling, swimming, dancing or gardening – helps lower your blood pressure and your weight.
8. Check blood pressure regularly
9. Address stress and anxiety – Stress can elevate blood pressure and cortisol (your stress hormone). Use techniques and activities such as yoga, physical activity, counselling, meditation, Tai Chi, breathing exercises, visualisation.
If you are currently on medication and are wanting to readdress your options, it’s very important that you do not stop taking prescribed medicines or change the dose without talking to your doctor first. If you are unsure of your blood pressure (and cholesterol levels) or have not had it checked in a while, inquire about AHS’s 20 minute Healthy Heart Check with Dietitian Robbie Clark.
Please call our Dietitan on 9948 2826 or visit our clinic at 9/470 Sydney Rd in Balgowlah servicing the surrounding suburbs of Allambie, Balgowlah Heights, Seaforth, Fairlight and Manly on the Northern Beaches.