John, at 62, had gone from being a CEO (chief executive officer) of a Fortune 500 company to a nursing home resident in just a matter of six months. After a devastating stroke, his doctors held little hope of any significant recovery. What John had often referred to as “just a little high blood pressure” had destroyed his world.
John’s example was used in the book “Proof Positive” authored by preventive medical expert Neal Nedley, MD. In the chapter “One Nation Under Pressure,” Nedley urged the public to make it a habit of regularly monitoring their blood pressure before it’s too late.
Nedley said many people will never realize that their blood pressure is high unless they get it checked by a doctor, go to a screening program, or get a blood pressure instrument and check it themselves.
“In fact, it is common for people to feel fine with blood pressure of 200/100 or even higher. Indeed, you may feel great while being unwittingly on the verge of a disaster such as a sudden stroke or heart attack, or gradual kidney damage with resulting renal failure down the road,” he said.
Too serious to ignore
The implications of high blood pressure, or hypertension, are too serious to ignore. Medical experts have named stroke, congestive heart failure, heart attack, atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”), aneurysm, kidney disease, disease of the retina, blood vessel rupture, weakened memory and mental abilities as some of the complications arising from hypertension.
Stopping hypertension involves changing lifestyle and dietary habits. Here are three of the most important diet changes:
1. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and grains. Unsalted nuts and other low-sodium foods can be consumed in moderation.
2. Avoid high sodium foods such as dill pickles, cured ham, Chinese fried rice and bouillons. Read the labels of packaged/processed foods to check sodium content.
3. Avoid low fiber foods such as meat (beef, pork, poultry) and dairy products. Vegan/vegetarian foods are good for maintaining ideal blood pressure.
Inquirer Science & Health interviewed two medical experts during an April 11 Takeda media briefing on hypertension.
Hermann Haller, MD, professor of medicine and director of the department of nephrology and hypertension at the Hannover Medical School in Germany, noted that a “plant-based diet is not extreme. In fact, a vegan diet is good for your heart.”
Haller enumerated acceptable foods and dietary practices that would prevent hypertension: “Vegetables, fruits, more fish than meat. Not adding salt to your food. And if you really have to, eat meat only twice a week.”
Helping ease HB pressure
Haller explained why plant-based diets help ease high blood pressure. “You have in the plant more potassium than sodium. Potassium is good for blood pressure, and for blood vessels. When you eat more plants, you have better digestion because you have more fibers. At the same time, you get more electrolytes, and this is potassium.”
“The Philippines is blessed with so much fruits and vegetables. Eat what you have here, then you will be healthy,” Haller stressed.
He added: “We are not made to eat meat every day. Our ancestors hunted for it, and once a week, they caught animals, but not every day. Today’s meat-based diets are not natural. We don’t need that much cholesterol.”
On resorting to veganism to treat hypertension, Haller said, “Veganism is good for cardiovascular health. It’s more extreme, but it’s definitely better than eating too much meat.”
Alan H. Gradman, MD, professor at the Temple University School of Medicine, told Inquirer that he recommends the DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet, a modified Mediterranean diet that puts emphasis on fruits and vegetables.
Gradman said: “There’s a lot to recommend about the vegetarian diet. As you know, you need complementary amino acids to give you necessary protein if you (decide to) eliminate all animal protein. I eat mostly vegetarian myself. With the DASH diet, you will lower blood pressure. No question about it.”
In his book, Nedley goes on to suggest the following lifestyle changes:
4. Eliminate caffeinated, carbonated and alcoholic drinks.
5. Stop smoking.
6. Bring your weight down to the recommended level for your height and build.
7. Adopt an aerobic exercise routine, such as brisk walking.
8. Learn to cope with stress.
“With these changes, you have a very good chance of reducing your blood pressure to a normal level and keeping it there without the need for medication,” wrote Nedley. “Take the time now to make sure your blood pressure is in the ideal range.”