When it comes to cardiovascular disease and disorders, many people simply rely on medication to help them combat the problem. Popping a few pills requires very little effort, which is one reason that high blood pressure, cholesterol, and other heart medications are so readily available (not to mention pricey).
However, according to at least one study, there’s an even more effective way to combat certain cardiovascular disorders—in this case, high blood pressure. Instead of taking the easy route and relying on medication, it’s worth going the harder but ultimately more effective route of making changes to your diet.
A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine compared the effects of both antihypertensive drugs and a healthy diet. They gathered more than 400 adults, both men and women, between the ages of 23 and 76. All of the adults in the study were pre-hypertensive or were in Stage 1 Hypertension. A large number of the adults were also African-American, one of the ethnicities most prone to high blood pressure.
Before the study, none of the participants had been diagnosed with heart disease, and none were on medication. All of the participants were put on one of two diets:
A control diet. This was a diet common for the average American, typically higher in trans fats, empty calories, and sugar.
The DASH Diet. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension is a diet created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association. The diet includes a lot of beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and poultry.
For 12 weeks, the 412 participants followed the same diet. They were also given either 50, 100, or 150 mmol of sodium (low to high range) every day. 150 mmol of sodium per day is considered by the FDA to be too much, and will increase high blood pressure and stroke risk.
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After the diet, the researchers examined the results:
The DASH diet helped to reduce systolic blood pressure of those with high blood pressure by 11 mm Hg, and those with lower blood pressure saw a decrease of 4 mm Hg.
The DASH diet combined with a low sodium diet helped to reduce blood pressure by 5 to 10 mm Hg, with the greatest decrease seen in those with higher blood pressure.
Those with the highest systolic blood pressure (above 150 mm Hg) saw a decrease of up to 21 mm Hg thanks to the DASH diet and low-sodium diet combined.
According to one researcher, this is “outstanding, huge!” The FDA requires that any antihypertensive medication or agent has to decrease systolic blood pressure by 3 to 4 mm Hg. Established drugs on the market—including beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers among them—are able to lower systolic blood pressure by 10 to 15 mm Hg.
With the low-sodium and DASH diet, however, the reductions were as high as 21 mm Hg. That’s almost 30% higher than the most effective of the medications approved by the FDA and sold by pharmaceutical companies.
The study’s senior author was amazed. He said, “What we’re observing from the combined dietary intervention is a reduction in systolic blood pressure as high as, if not greater than, that achieved with prescription drugs.”
Worried about high blood pressure? Don’t be! A few simple changes to your diet may be all you need to keep your blood pressure under control.
The study’s lead author had one important takeaway from this discovery: “It’s an important message to patients that they can get a lot of mileage out of adhering to a healthy and low-sodium diet.”
That’s it! No need for pricey medications (unless you have dangerously high blood pressure, in which case you have to consult with your doctor on appropriate treatment). All you need to do is change up your diet to include more low-sodium, heart-smart foods. These include:
It can be a bit tough to give up your favorite foods, but it’s worth it for your health’s sake! Making these changes to your diet can have visible effects on your wellbeing, decreasing your blood pressure more effectively than even some of the most popular heart medications. Focus on your food and eating habits, and you may never need to worry about high blood pressure again.
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