Lifestyle changes can help cure hypertension

FIVE simple lifestyle changes could beat high blood pressure and save millions of lives every year, said world health experts yesterday.

Keeping active, slashing salt intake, eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, cutting down on alcohol and not smoking all cut the chances of developing the deadly condition.

It has been dubbed the “silent killer” because it often has few, if any, symptoms until it is too late.

It is blighting the lives of at least one in three adults, roughly a billion people around the globe.

In Britain alone at least 16 million victims have been diagnosed, putting them at higher risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. In all, 62,000 UK deaths a year can be attributed to it, roughly one in 10.

Yesterday the World Health Organisation issued a stark alert, demanding “intensified efforts” to prevent and control high blood pressure, or hypertension.

The organisation’s director general Dr Margaret Chan said: “Our aim today is to make people aware of the need to know their blood pressure, to take high blood pressure seriously, and then to take control.”

To mark World Health Day on April 7, the WHO wants governments to do more to ensure people get their blood pressure checked.

Dr Shanthi Mendis, acting director of the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, said: “Early detection is clearly far less expensive for governments than heart surgery, stroke care, dialysis, and other interventions that may be needed if high blood pressure is left uncontrolled.”

And Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, added: “As many as five million people in the UK are walking around with undiagnosed high blood pressure.

“It rarely makes people feel ill, so it often goes undetected.


“But this ‘silent threat’ can increase your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.

“The only way to tell if you have high blood pressure is to get it measured by your GP or nurse. If you’re over 40, ask for a free health check.

“Lifestyle changes can really make a difference.

“Keeping active, maintaining a healthy weight and cutting down on salt can all help improve your blood pressure and protect your heart.”

High blood pressure is diagnosed with a simple test which measures the pressure of blood in the arteries. If it is high, then it means the heart has to work harder. A range of drugs can be used to treat it, but there is no cure.

Heart disease and stroke are the main causes of premature death and disability in Britain.

High blood pressure causes 60 per cent of strokes and 40 per cent of heart attacks.

It kills more people than those who die from the combined effects of alcohol and smoking.

Roughly 14.7 per cent of men and 10.3 per cent of women have the condition without knowing it.

Scientists at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, Finland, say people who have an active, healthy lifestyle can cut their risk of developing hypertension by two-thirds.

Even cutting down your risk factors reduces the chance of disease in men by nearly 50 per cent, and more than 30 per cent in women.

Soy can lower blood pressure

Eating foods that contain isoflavones – a key compound in soy milk, tofu, green tea and even peanuts – every day may help young adults lower their blood pressure, say experts.

According to the researchers, the compound appears to have particular benefit in African Americans, who have hypertension prevalence rates near 42 percent.

“What’s unique about this study is that the results are very applicable to the general population. Our results strongly suggest a blood pressure benefit for moderate amounts of dietary isoflavone intake in young black and white adults,” said Safiya Richardson, a graduating medical student at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and the study’s lead investigator.

“Our study is the first to show a benefit in African Americans, who have a higher incidence of high blood pressure, with an earlier onset and more severe end-organ damage,” Richardson noted.

Compared to those consuming less than 0.33 mg of isoflavones per day, those reporting the most isoflavone intake (more than 2.5 mg per day) had a significantly lower systolic blood pressure.

To help put this into context, an 8 ounce glass of soy milk has about 22 mg of isoflavones, and 100 g of roasted soybeans have as much as 130 mg.

“This could mean that consuming soy protein, for example, in combination with a DASH diet – one that is high in fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains – could lead to as much as a 10 mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure for pre-hypertensives, greatly improving their chances of not progressing to hypertension,” said Richardson.

“Any dietary or lifestyle modification people can easily make that doesn’t require a daily medication is exciting, especially considering recent figures estimating that only about one third of American hypertensives have their blood pressure under control,” the researchers stated.

Soya beans
Soya beans

Isoflavones are thought to work by increasing the production of enzymes that create nitric oxide (NO), a substance that helps to dilate or widen blood vessels, thereby reducing the pressure created by blood against the vessel walls.

Richardson said this mechanism might partially explain why the study was able to find an association with smaller amounts of isoflavone intake than examined previously.

The relatively pronounced results in the overall biracial cohort may be driven by a more intense effect of isoflavones in African Americans, Richardson said.

This is because endothelial dysfunction, a condition in which the blood vessels have a hard time either producing or using NO, plays a bigger role in hypertension in African Americans than it does in whites.

“It’s possible that these foods may help compensate for this,” Richardson said.

“Based on our results and those of previous studies, we would encourage the average adult to consider including moderate amounts of soy products in a healthy, well-balanced diet to reduce the chances of developing high blood pressure.

“For people with hypertension, it’s important that they talk with their doctor about isoflavones as a possible addition to a low sodium DASH diet that could reduce the need for medication,” she added.