Hypertension, aka high blood pressure, is a major health problem. While it’s normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall during the day, especially if you’re exercising or otherwise taxing your body, if it remains elevated for too long, it leads to serious complications, including death. According to the CDC, in 2019, hypertension was either a primary or contributing cause of death for more than 500,000 Americans. What’s worse? Only 24% of those who have it have it under control.
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, cardiologists Dr. A. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman call hypertension the “silent killer,” as it often doesn’t produce noticeable symptoms. That’s why they impress upon their patients the need to get regular blood pressure checks. Here, the team discusses the link between a poor diet and hypertension, so you can mitigate your risks.
Understanding blood pressure
To understand blood pressure, you need to know a bit about your circulatory system. Your heart pumps out oxygenated blood, which your arteries convey to your body’s tissues. Your blood pressure is a measure of the force the blood puts on the arteries’ walls while traveling.
Blood pressure measurements contain two numbers, reported as one number over the other. The systolic pressure is the upper number, and it represents the pressure against the walls when the heart actively beats. The diastolic pressure is the lower number, and it represents the pressure against the walls when the heart rests between beats. In healthy adults, a normal blood pressure reading is somewhere around 120/80.
When readings rise above these numbers; it means the heart has to work harder to pump the same amount of blood; that exerts higher-than-healthy pressure on the walls, which is the definition of hypertension. That pressure not only damages the blood vessels, but it can also damage your kidneys, eyes, and even your brain.
Types of hypertension
There are two different forms of hypertension.
1. Primary hypertension
When there's no immediately identifiable cause of elevated blood pressure, which is what happens in the majority of cases, it’s considered “primary.” Also called essential hypertension, it usually develops gradually.
2. Secondary hypertension
Secondary hypertension results from an underlying medical condition, such as kidney disease, obstructive sleep apnea, or thyroid problems; it can also be caused by certain medications and illicit drugs. It usually appears suddenly and causes higher pressure readings than primary hypertension.
The link between a poor diet and hypertension
Many cases of hypertension can be linked to eating an unhealthy or poor quality diet.
High-fat, high-cholesterol, high-calorie foods are a whole body health hazard. They can lead to a fatty plaque buildup on the blood vessel walls, which narrows the arteries and forces the heart to work harder to push enough blood to your extremities. This, in turn, increases the pressure against the artery walls, potentially damaging them or causing them to rupture.
In addition, too much salt (sodium) causes your body to retain fluid, and the increased volume increases your blood pressure. Processed foods often contain high amounts of sodium, sometimes more than a day’s worth in a single serving, so these are something you want to avoid. Try to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
Potassium is a different type of salt, one that helps regulate the concentration of sodium in your cells. If you don’t consume enough potassium, sodium builds up and increases blood pressure. Bananas are one great source of potassium.
A poor diet can also lead to becoming overweight or obese, and that only compounds the problem. The more you weigh, the more blood you need to supply your body with oxygen and other nutrients, and the increased blood volume increases pressure on the artery walls. In addition, the extra weight strains your heart, which has to pump harder to meet your body’s needs.
And being overweight can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle. The problem here is that couch potatoes often have higher heart rates than those who are physically active, and the higher the rate, the harder your heart needs to pump with each contraction. That puts additional stress on your arteries with every beat.
Do you know what your blood pressure reading is? If not, and if your diet is putting you at risk for hypertension, it’s time to come into Northwest Houston Heart Center for an evaluation. Give us a call at any of our locations or book online. We have offices in Magnolia, Tomball, Cypress, and The Woodlands, Texas. You can also text us at 832-402-9518.