What is hypertension?

Hypertension is the medical term for raised blood pressure. Raised blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease (including stroke, heart attack and heart failure), kidney disease, cognitive decline (e.g. memory loss, poor decision making skills and dementia) and preventable death. If hypertension is not treated and continues to rise, it can cause permanent damage to the kidneys. Hypertension is confirmed following extensive blood pressure monitoring, which may be considered for persons measuring a blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg and above.

What causes hypertension?

Hypertension is caused by a rise in arterial pressure, which is proportional to any increase in resistance to blood flow, for example changes in the diameter of the blood vessel’s inner space. Factors that could contribute to the development of hypertension include:
  • Thickening of blood vessel walls
  • High sodium, low potassium diets.
  • Stress
  • Genetics
  • High intake of saturated fats.
  • Low vegetable intake
  • Lung disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Sensitivity to or increased levels of cardiovascular system regulating hormones
  • Dysfunctions in cell membrane sodium-potassium pump
  • Contraceptive pill
  • Body stature and weight
  • Older age
  • Sedentary lifestyle, low exercise

How common is hypertension?

Hypertension is a very common disorder, affecting around 24% of adults in the UK.

What are the symptoms of hypertension?

Hypertension is often present without noticeable symptoms. Symptoms of hypertension can include:
  • Feeling dizzy and faint
  • Feeling dizzy or fainting upon standing up
  • Headaches
  • Nose bleeds
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Breathing difficulties

What is the treatment for hypertension?

Treatment for hypertension includes lifestyle advice and antihypertensive drug treatment, in consideration of other factors such as age and co-existing medical conditions.

What diet and lifestyle strategies can support hypertension?

Nutrition and lifestyle strategies to support hypertension (including prevention and supporting people with borderline raised blood pressure), either as a primary intervention or in combination with medical management and monitoring, are a fundamental part of managing the condition. Therapeutic aims are to promote a nutritionally balanced healthy diet, promote weight loss in overweight or obese people and initiate regular exercise and stress reduction regimes. General dietary and lifestyle strategies for prevention and support of hypertension include:

Eat whole grains: whole grains (oats, wholemeal bread, buckwheat, millet, rye, brown and wild rice and quinoa) are foods of high nutritional value. They are a source of essential vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates whilst low in calories. Whole grains appear to lower the risk of developing hypertension and may also be useful for lowering blood pressure in people with raised blood pressure.

Eat a rainbow coloured variety of vegetables and fruits every day: the Mediterranean diet and the DASH trial diet, which have shown promise for effectively lowering blood pressure both include large amounts of fruit and vegetables. As many as 8-10 portions a day may be required to obtain a beneficial effect.

Try to manage stress and take part in relaxing activities: stress not only leads to overconsumption of high fat, sugar and salty processed foods which are contraindicated for hypertension, stress also has the physical effect of raising blood pressure.

Take part in a weight management programme: losing weight is an effective strategy for lowering blood pressure and preventing development of hypertension.

Choose low fat dairy products: the promising DASH diet used in trials to lower blood pressure, also includes only low fat dairy products. This advice also originates from the low saturated fat content of the heart healthy Mediterranean diet. Swapping to low fat dairy products may have a blood pressure lowering effect, although it’s likely to be more effective in combination with other dietary changes.

Reduce salt intake: reducing dietary sodium can help to lower blood pressure. Avoid eating salty processed, tinned (soups and sauces) and packaged foods. Cooking from scratch without adding salt in cooking or at the table will help to lower daily salt intake considerably.

Take part in regular cardiovascular work outs: exercising for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week is recommended for heart health in addition to blood pressure lowering benefits.

Stop smoking: the drug nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant that raises blood pressure. Smoking also has many negative effects on the cardiovascular system, which increases the risk of heart disease.

Limit alcohol consumption: reducing alcohol intake has been shown to lower blood pressure.

Limit caffeine intake: caffeine can cause transient rises in blood pressure.

Get support: making considerable changes to your diet and lifestyle can be hard on your own. An experienced Nutritional Therapist can help support you to make sustainable diet and lifestyle changes.

A Nutritional Therapist can help you identify diet and lifestyle factors, which may be contributing to your symptoms.