Another name for hypertension is high blood pressure. High blood pressure is not to be taken lightly because it can lead to a severe complication and raises the risk of stroke, heart disease and death. Unfortunately, not many people know what causes high blood pressure.
You probably have high blood pressure if your blood pressure readings are consistently 140 over 90 or higher over a number of weeks. Even if it is only one of the numbers that has been consistently higher over a number of weeks, you may also have high blood pressure.
When you have high blood pressure, it puts extra strain on blood vessels and the heart. Over time, that extra strain will increase your risk of stroke or heart attack.
What is high blood pressure or hypertension?
Blood pressure is the force exerted against the blood vessels walls. The pressure depends on the work being done by the heart and the blood vessels resistance.
The heart pumps blood into the blood vessels, which in turn carry the blood throughout the body. Hypertension is dangerous because it makes your heart work harder to pump blood to the body. High blood pressure also contributes to hardening of the arteries, kidney disease, heart failure, stroke and atherosclerosis.
Heart disease and hypertension are global issues. WHO (World Health Organisation) suggests that the fast growth of the processed food industry has raised the amount of salt in people’s diets worldwide, and plays a vital role in hypertension.
Facts on hypertension
Normal blood pressure should be 120 over 80 mm of mercury (mmHg), but high blood pressure (hypertension) is higher than 130 over 80 mmHg.
Common causes of hypertension include stress, but can also happen on its own, or can result from an underlying condition like kidney disease. In the United States, it has been estimated that over 85 million people have high blood pressure.
Hypertension that is not well managed can lead to stroke, heart attack and other health issues.
The best way to address high blood pressure has to do with lifestyle.
What is normal blood pressure?
A blood pressure reading is done like 120/80. This reads 120 over 80. The number on top is systolic, while the one below diastolic. Here are the ranges:
- Normal: Less than 120/80 (120 over 80)
- Elevated: 120 – 129/ less than 80
- Stage 1 hypertension: 140 and above/90 and above
- Stage 2 hypertension: 140 and above/ 90 and above
- Hypertension crisis: over 180/over 120 – you need to see a doctor immediately.
What causes high blood pressure?
The real causes of high blood pressure are not known, but a lot of things can play a role. Some of them include:
- Lack of physical activities
- Too much salt in the diet
- Being obese or overweight
- Older age
- Sleep apnea
- Adrenal and thyroid disorders
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Too much alcohol consumption (taking more than 2 drinks per day
- Existing health conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol levels, cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease.
- Low potassium in the diet
- Certain diseases and medications
- Men are more prone to hypertension at a younger age than females. But the prevalence tends to be higher in older women.
Types of hypertension
There are two types of high blood pressure which include:
Primary (essential) hypertension
When most adults suffer from hypertension, there is no identifiable cause of high blood pressure. In about 95% of high blood pressure cases in the US, there is no underlying cause. This type of hypertension is known as essential hypertension.
Essential hypertension remains mysterious but has been linked to certain risk factors including age and race.
In the US, blacks are more likely to have high blood pressure than whites, although the age gap is around 44. After age 65, black women have the highest incidence of hypertension. This type of high blood pressure is also highly influenced by lifestyle and diet. The link between hypertension and salt is particularly compelling.
People that live in the northern island of Japan consume more salt than anyone else in the world, so they have the highest incidence of essential hypertension. But people who add no salt to their food show virtually no traces of essential hypertension.
People that are salt sensitive are the most people with hypertension. This means consuming more than salt needed by the body can increase their blood pressure. Obesity, insufficient intake of potassium, stress, diabetes, magnesium and calcium are other possible causes of essential hypertension.
Chronic alcohol consumption and lack of physical activities may also cause essential hypertension.
The high blood pressure of some people is caused by an underlying condition. This type of hypertension is called secondary hypertension and tends to appear suddenly. Many conditions and medications can cause this type of hypertension, including:
- Thyroid problem
- Adrenal gland tumors
- Certain defects you are born with in the blood vessels
- Kidney problems
- Illegal drugs like amphetamines and cocaine
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Certain medications like birth control pills, decongestants, cold remedies, some prescription drugs and over-the-counter pain relievers.
Symptoms of high blood pressure
Most people don’t have any sign or symptom that they have high blood pressure until they check the readings.
A few people who have high blood pressure may have shortness of breath, nosebleeds or headaches, but these symptoms and signs are not specific and usually don’t occur until high blood pressure has gotten to a severe level or life-threatening stage.
High blood pressure causes too much pressure on the artery walls, which can damage blood vessels and organs of the body. The higher the blood pressure and the longer you fail to control it, the greater the damage.
Here are complications that can result from high blood pressure:
- Heart failure: The heart has to work harder to pump blood against high blood pressure in the vessels. This thickens the walls of the heart’s pumping chamber (left ventricular hypertrophy). In the long run, the thickened muscle may find it difficult to pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body, which can lead to heart failure
- Aneurysm: High blood pressure can weaken the blood vessels and bulge, forming an aneurysm. An aneurysm can rupture and become life-threatening.
- Stroke or heart attack: High blood pressure can thicken and harden the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can cause a stroke, heart attack or other complications.
- Torn, thickened or narrowed blood vessels in the eyes: This can cause vision loss.
- Narrowed and weakened blood vessels in the kidneys: This can prevent kidneys from functioning normally.
- Metabolic syndrome: Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of disorder of body’s metabolism, including low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, high triglycerides, increased waist circumference, high insulin levels and high blood pressure. This syndrome makes you more likely to have diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
- Dementia: blocked or narrowed arteries can limit blood flow to your brain, causing a certain type of dementia called vascular dementia.
- Problem with memory or understanding: When high blood pressure is left uncontrolled, it may affect your ability to think, learn and remember. Problem with memory or understanding is common to people with high blood pressure.
What foods cause high blood pressure?
According to the American Heart Association, about 103 million American adults have high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure and looking for what foods cause high blood pressure so that you can avoid them, here are the foods to avoid:
When it comes to foods to avoid when you are living with high blood pressure, salt and sodium are the popular villains. The 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that those living with hypertension limit their daily intake of sodium to 1,500 mg.
Studies showed that the average American consumes about 3.400 milligrams a day. That is more than twice the suggested amount.
The Food and Drug Administration claims about 75% of the sodium Americans consume in a day comes from processed foods and salts added to foods at restaurants and other food services. Other saltiest packaged foods include:
- Canned soup
- Vegetable juices
- Canned or bottled tomato products
- Frozen pizza
- Deli meat
Excessive intake of sugar has been linked to increased cases of obesity and weight gain. Too much sugar intake has equally been linked with high blood pressure. Sugar, especially drinks that are sugar-sweetened have contributed to the increase in obesity in people of all ages.
You know high blood pressure has been linked to obesity or overweight. Of course, there is no daily limit recommendation for sugar but it makes sense for women to limit sugar intake to 6 teaspoons (24g) per day, while men should limit it to 9 teaspoons or 36g per day.
Drinking a moderate or small amount of alcohol may help you lower blood pressure, but too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure. If you continue to drink too much alcohol, it can cause long-term blood pressure issues.
Alcohol can also prevent blood pressure medications from working effectively. Also, alcohol increases the risk of cancer and it is full of calories. Too many calories can cause obesity or overweight, which is likely to lead to high blood pressure.
4. Chicken skin and packaged foods
If you have hypertension, reduce Trans fats and saturated fats. The following are the foods high in saturated fat:
- Red meat
- Full-fat dairy
- Chicken skin
Trans fats are found in small quantity in fatty meats and dairy products. If you eat packaged and prepared foods, you are likely to consume too many trans fats because they are high in sugar and low in fiber.
To reduce the risk of consuming too many saturated fats and trans fats, you should be eating healthy fats including:
- Olive oil
5. Canned beans
Canned beans can contain too much sodium for preservation purposes. If you eventually buy canned beans, rinse it in a colander under running water to wash away most of the salt.
Only 3 slices of regular old bacon contain about 4.5 g of fat and 270 mg of sodium.
Cheese is heart-harming because of the amount of salt in it. Roquefort cheese may be delicious but contains 507 mg of sodium per 28 g serving. If you are bent on eating cheese, go for grilled cheese but keep those numbers in mind.
8. Chinese food
We all love Chinese food but what makes their food delicious is sodium. Chinese food is laden with sodium as their common entrees like broccoli and beef can contain about 3,000 mg of sodium. If you add soy sauce to that, it means you are adding 1,000 mg.
Such salt loaded food can raise blood pressure and cause your body to retain excess fluid.
Caffeine-containing beverages like coffee can significantly raise your blood pressure. In fact, it is sometimes bad for your heart and reduces libido. Caffeine may cause your adrenal glands to release excess adrenaline and cortisol substances that cause a further rise in blood pressure.
What candy offer is nothing more than sugar and calories. It makes sense to skip candy bars and sugary suckers for naturally-sweetened fruits rich in potassium and fiber.
11. Cured Hams
With 28 g serving of boneless cured ham, you will consume 172 mg of sodium and 15 g of fat. A moderately portioned four-ounce slice of cured ham gives you around 688 g of sodium. So you should limit the intake of ham by eating it only during holidays like Easter.
12. Frozen meals
Meals like chicken strips, pizzas and individually frozen entrees are loaded with unwanted ingredients and sodium, which can spike blood pressure. In fact, some of the so-called healthy meals tend to be filled with a high amount of sodium.
Cookies, cakes and doughnuts are loaded with fat and sugar. That combination may cause weight gain or obesity. It makes sense to reduce the intake of these products.
14. Soft drinks
Soft drinks contain too many calories and sugar, just like candy. A can of soda generally contains over 9 teaspoons of sugar or 39 g, which is the daily recommended intake for men and two-thirds for women.
Condiments and sauces contain a high amount of sugar and salt, so it makes sense to avoid them.
High blood pressure treatment (hypertension treatment)
High blood pressure can damage the heart because it is dangerous, especially if left untreated. It affects 1 in 3 people in the United States and 1 billion people worldwide. If hypertension is left untreated, it raises the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Fortunately, there is a number of things you can do to reduce your blood pressure naturally. Here are the natural high blood pressure treatments:
1. Exercise regularly
One of the best ways to lower your blood pressure is exercise. Exercising regularly helps keep your heart more efficient and stronger at pumping blood, to lower the blood pressure in the arteries.
Just 150 minutes of moderate exercise like walking or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise like running, per week will help you lower your blood pressure and improve the health of your heart. You can walk for just 30 minutes a day and you will be amazed how normal your blood pressure will be.
2. Drink less alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure, as alcohol is linked to 16 percent of high blood pressure cases in the world.
Although research suggested that low-to-moderate amount of alcohol may help protect your heart, its negative effects can quickly offset those benefits.
Moderate alcohol intake is defined in the US as a maximum of one drink a day for women and a maximum of two a day for men. You should cut back if you drink more than that.
3. Reduce sodium intake
People take too much salt around the world, which is due to the consumption of prepared and processed foods. In several studies (1, 2), salt has been linked to high blood pressure and heart issues like stroke.
Recently, more research shows the relationship between high blood pressure and sodium is less clear (1, 2). This may be due to genetic differences in how the body of each person process sodium. Close to half of those with high blood pressure and a quarter of those with normal levels seem to be sensitive to salt.
If you are dealing with high blood pressure already, it makes sense to cut back on sodium intake and see if it makes any difference. If you must eat processed food, eat those seasoned with spices and herbs, rather than those with salt.
4. Cut back on caffeine
If you have ever taken your blood pressure after sipping a cup of coffee, you will know that caffeine increases your blood pressure instantly. However, there are only a few pieces of evidence that suggest that sipping caffeine regularly can cause a lasting increase.
If you don’t consume caffeine regularly, it may have a strong effect on you when you do. If you suspect you are caffeine-sensitive, stop consuming it and see if it reduces your blood pressure.
5. Consume more foods rich in potassium
Eating foods rich in potassium helps you ease pressure on the blood vessels and get rid of sodium. The way we eat nowadays has reduced potassium intake and raise sodium intake.
If you want to get a better balance of sodium to potassium, focus on consuming less processed foods and fresher, whole foods.
You can eat more foods that are high in potassium, including:
- Tuna and salmon
- Dairies, such as Greek yogurt and milk
- Nuts and seeds
- Vegetables like leafy greens, sweet potatoes, potatoes and
- Fruit, such as apricots, bananas, oranges, melons and
6. Manage your stress
When you are chronically stressed, the body is in a constant fight-or-flight mode. That means a faster heart rate and constricted blood vessels.
When you are stressed, you are also likely to eat unhealthy foods or drink alcohol, which may affect your blood pressure negatively. Studies have shown that reducing stress can lower your blood pressure.
You can try the following to reduce stress:
- Work less: Too much work and stressful work situation are linked to high blood pressure.
- Listen to soothing music: Music that calms you can help relax your nervous system. The study showed it is an effective complement for other blood pressure therapies.
7. Lose weight
Previous studies also showed that losing 7.7 kg (17 pounds) was linked to lowering diastolic blood pressure by 6.5 mm Hg and systolic blood pressure by 8.5 mm Hg.
If you pair weight loss with exercise, the result could be greater (1). Losing weight can help your blood vessels work better at expanding and contracting, making it easier for your heart to pump blood effectively.
8. Eat cocoa or dark chocolate
Although too much chocolate won’t help your heart, a small amount of it may help. This is because cocoa powder and dark chocolate are rich in flavonoids that cause blood vessels to dilate.
Review of several studies showed that flavonoid-rich cocoa improved heart health over the short term, including lowering blood pressure. To make it work better, choose non-alkalized cocoa powder, which is very high in flavonoids and has no added sugar.
9. Stop smoking
One of the major reasons why you should quit smoking is a strong risk factor for heart disease. Each time you puff cigarette smoke, you cause a temporary increase in your blood pressure. The chemicals in tobacco also have damaging effects on blood vessels.
Surprisingly, studies are yet to find a conclusive link between high blood pressure and smoking. Maybe this is because smokers develop a tolerance over time.
However, since high blood pressure and smoking raise the risk of heart disease, it makes sense to quit smoking to reverse the risk.
10. Eat berries
Berries don’t only offer juicy flavor but also packed with polyphenols, which are good for your heart.
In a small study, middle-aged people were made to consume berries for eight weeks and they experienced improvement in different makers of heart health, including blood pressure.
Another study assigned people living with high blood pressure to a low-polyphenol diet or a high-polyphenol diet containing berries, vegetables, chocolate and fruits. Those that consumed berries and polyphenol-rich foods had improved markers of heart disease risk.
Therefore, berries are very rich in polyphenols, which can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
11. Cut refined carbs and added sugar
A lot of studies have shown there is a link between added sugar and high blood pressure. The Framingham Women’s Health Study showed that women who drank one soda per day had higher blood pressure than women who drank less than one soda per day.
All refined carbs like the type found in white flour may cause problems for you. Studies have shown that consuming low-carb diets may help reduce blood pressure.
A study on those undergoing statin therapy showed that those who went on a six-week carb-restricted diet saw a greater improvement in blood pressure than those not on a diet.
12. Eat calcium-rich foods
People who are low on calcium often have high blood pressure. Although calcium supplements have not been completely proved to lower blood pressure, food rich in calcium seems linked to healthy levels.
The calcium recommendation for adults is 1,000 mg per day. Over 50 for women and over 70 for men is 1,200 mg per day.
You can get calcium from dairy, collard greens and other leafy greens, tofu, sardines and beans.
13. Try meditation or deep breathing
Deep breathing and meditation may help lower the blood pressure and slow the heart rate. Studies have shown that participants who took six breaths over the course of 30 seconds lower their blood pressure than those who only sat still for 30 seconds.
14. Eat magnesium-rich foods
Magnesium helps blood vessels relax. Although magnesium deficiency is rare, several people still don’t get enough. Several studies have shown that getting too little magnesium is linked with high blood pressure. So eating magnesium-rich food is recommended.
15. Take natural supplements
Some natural supplements may help you lower your blood pressure. Some of the supplements that work and have evidence behind them are:
16. Read labels
Because a lot of people eat too much sodium in some of the processed foods, it makes sense to always check the label before purchasing it. Some of the foods high in sodium include:
- Cold cuts and cured meats
- Bread and rolls
17. Pump some iron
Weight lifting is often overlooked, but it can help lower high blood pressure.
18. Eat more vegetables and fruits
If you are living with or at the risk of high blood pressure, you should eat just little saturated fat and trans fat. Instead, you should be eating:
- A variety of vegetables and fruit
- Whole-grain, high-fiber foods
- Non-tropical vegetable oils like olive oil
- Omega-3-rich fish twice a week
- Low-fat dairy products
- Skinless poultry and fish
- Beans, nuts and pulses
19. The DASH diet
The U.S. NHLBI (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute) recommends the DASH diet for those living with high blood pressure. This dietary approach is recommended to stop hypertension, as it is specifically designed to help people to lower blood pressure.
According to research, this diet:
- Lowers high blood pressure
- Reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease
- Improves levels of fat in the bloodstream
When to see a doctor
Starting at age 8, ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading at least every two years. If you are 40 years old or older, or you are between 18 and 39 years old with a high risk of high blood pressure, ask your doctor for your blood pressure every year.
Generally, blood pressure should be checked in both arms to determine if there is a difference. Make sure appropriate-sized arm cuff is used.
If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure or you are at the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, your doctor may recommend more frequent readings for you.
High blood pressure diet
If you are looking for a high blood pressure diet that can help you lower the blood pressure, here are the best diets for you:
1. Leafy greens
Leafy greens are rich in potassium, which helps your kidney eliminate more sodium through urine. This will help you lower your blood pressure.
Some of the best leafy greens include:
- Turnip greens
- Collard greens
- Romaine lettuce
- Swiss chard
- Beet greens
Canned vegetables often contain added sodium, but frozen vegetables are nutrient-rich just like fresh vegetables. You can equally blend these veggies with nut milk and banana for a healthy, sweet green juice.
Oatmeal contains low-fat, low-sodium and higher fiber, which are good to lower blood pressure. Consuming oatmeal in the morning is a great way to feel up your stomach for the day.
To make oatmeal, soak a ½ cup of rolled oats and a ½ cup of nut milk in a jar. Stir in the morning and add berries, cinnamon and granola to taste.
3. Yogurt and skim milk
Skim milk is low in fat and a great source of calcium. These are vital elements of a diet for lowering blood pressure. If you don’t like milk, opt for yogurt.
Try to incorporate fruits, granola and almond silvers into your yogurt for more health benefits. Greek yogurt is particularly good, but if you are opting for another yogurt, be sure to check the label for added sugar. The lower the sugar quantity per serving, the better it works.
Banana is rich in potassium which helps lower high blood pressure. Slicing a banana into your oatmeal or cereal for potassium-rich diet is better than taking supplements. If it is a breakfast or snack, you can add banana to a boiled egg.
5. Red Beets
Beets are very high in nitric oxide, which is good for opening your blood vessels and lowering your blood pressure. Research showed that nitrates in beetroot juice lowered the blood pressure of participant within 24 hours.
You can cook and eat the whole root of beet or juice it. You can even roast it or add to stews and stir-fries. You can also make them into chips. When you are handling beets, be sure you don’t allow it to stain your cloth or hands.
Berries, particularly blueberries are very rich in flavonoids, which research has found to help participant lower blood pressure.
Raspberries, strawberries and blueberries are easy to incorporate into your diet. Put them on your granola or cereal in the morning.
Unsalted seeds pack magnesium, potassium and other minerals, which are known to help lower blood pressure. Enjoy a ¼ cup of squash seeds, pumpkin or sunflower as a snack between meals.
8. Mackerel, salmon and fish with omega-3s
Fish packs lean protein. Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids that can help lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides and reduce inflammation.
9. Herbs and garlic
A review showed that garlic contains nitric oxide, which helps reduce hypertension. Nitric oxide helps widen arteries and lower blood pressure.
Adding garlic and herbs to your daily diet can help you reduce salt intake. You can add thyme, basil, rosemary, cinnamon and more to your diet.
10. Olive oil
Olive oil is on the list of healthy fats to eat, as it contains polyphenols which fight inflammation and reduce blood pressure.
Olive oil is also a great alternative to commercial salad dressing, butter and canola oil.
You can reduce blood vessel tightening or peripheral vascular resistance by incorporating pistachios in your diet. If you want to lower your blood pressure and make your heart works normally, you can add pistachios to your salads, pesto sauces and crusts or eat them as a snack.
12. Dark chocolate
A study found that consuming dark chocolate is associated with a low risk for cardiovascular disease. This study suggests consuming up to 100 grams of dark chocolate a day.
You can add dark chocolate to your yogurt or eat it with fruits like raspberries, strawberries or blueberries to lower your blood pressure.
If you are looking for a high blood pressure diet, pomegranates can help. They are a healthy fruit you can enjoy as a juice or raw. A study showed that sipping a glass of pomegranate juice once a day for 4 weeks helps lower blood pressure in a very short time.
Pomegranate juice is sweet and goes well with breakfast. If you buy the juice in a store, be sure to check the sugar because added sugar can cut out the health benefits.
High blood pressure affects a lot of people from different parts of the world. While drugs can help treat the condition, you might want to try natural high blood pressure treatment that really help.
Now that you know what causes high blood pressure, it makes sense to control it through high blood pressure diet and other methods explained in this article. These techniques will help you lower the risk of heart disease and provide you with other health benefits.