Diet A Big Factor In Controlling High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. It is measured in millimeters of mercury and recorded as two numbers-systolic pressure (when the heart beats) over diastolic pressure (when the heart relaxes between beats). Both numbers are important. Blood pressure rises and falls during the day. But when it stays elevated over time, then it’s called high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard, and the high force of the blood flow can harm arteries and organs such as the heart, kidneys, brain, and eyes. High blood pressure often has no warning signs or symptoms. Once it occurs, it usually lasts a lifetime. If uncontrolled, it can lead to heart and kidney disease, stroke, and blindness.

High blood pressure affects more than 65 million-or 1 in 3- American adults. About 28 percent of American adults ages 18 and older, or about 59 million people, have prehypertension, a condition that also increases the chance of heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure is especially common among African Americans, who tend to develop it at an earlier age and more often than Whites. It is also common among older Americans-individuals with normal blood pressure at age 55 have a 90 percent lifetime risk for developing high blood pressure.

High blood pressure can be controlled if you take these steps:

 Maintain a healthy weight.

 Be moderately physically active on most days of the week.

 If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.

 If you have high blood pressure and are prescribed medication, take it as directed.

 Follow a healthy eating plan, which includes foods lower in sodium.

The lower your salt intake is, the lower your blood pressure. Studies have found that the DASH [http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov] menus containing 2,300 milligrams of sodium can lower blood pressure and that an even lower level of sodium, 1,500 milligrams, can further reduce blood pressure. All the menus are lower in sodium than what adults in the United States currently eat-about 4,200 milligrams per day in men and 3,300 milligrams per day in women.

Scientists supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute conducted two key studies. Their findings showed that blood pressures were reduced with an eating plan that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat and that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.

This eating plan-known as the DASH eating plan-also includes whole grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts. It is reduced in lean red meat, sweets, added sugars, and sugar-containing beverages compared to the typical American diet. It is rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as well as protein and fiber.

The DASH eating plan also emphasizes potassium from food, especially fruits and vegetables, to help keep blood pressure levels healthy. A potassium-rich diet may help to reduce elevated or high blood pressure, but be sure to get your potassium from food sources, not from supplements. Many fruits and vegetables, some milk products, and fish are rich sources of potassium. However, fruits and vegetables are rich in the form of potassium (potassium with bicarbonate precursors) that favorably affects acid-base metabolism. This form of potassium may help to reduce risk of kidney stones and bone loss. While salt substitutes containing potassium are sometimes needed by persons on drug therapy for high blood pressure, these supplements can be harmful to people with certain medical conditions. Ask your doctor before trying salt substitutes or supplements.