The SPRINT study shows that lowering systolic blood pressure to less than 120 rather than just below 140 reduces risk for heart attacks, heart failure and strokes by 33 percent and of death by 25 percent (NIH Press Releases). The Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) followed 9,300 men and women, ages 50 and over, who were at high risk for heart disease or already had kidney disease. The results were so dramatic that the study was stopped early. The report will be published soon.
More than half of people who are treated with medication for high blood pressure do not get their systolic blood pressure below 140. If doctors follow the findings of this study they should save lots of lives. However, they should do more than just prescribe more drugs. Lifestyle changes are even more effective than drugs to lower blood pressure, without the many side effects of the medications.
Most people who take drugs to reduce blood pressure will need to use combinations of three or more blood pressure drugs to get their systolic blood pressure below 120. Side effects of these drugs include:
• dizziness when they change position,
• falls and broken bones,
• reduced ability to exercise because of dizziness or weakness,
• dehydration and exhaustion,
• and more than 100 other listed side effects
Many people have so many unpleasant side effects that they simply refuse to take the medications.
Lifestyle Changes Are More Effective than Drugs
Most people who suffer from high blood pressure can lower their blood pressure to normal just by changing their lifestyle. People who have high blood pressure often:
• are overweight
• store fat in their bellies rather than in their hips
• eat a lot of sugar added foods, sugared drinks, meat and fried foods
• do not eat enough vegetables and fruits
• do not exercise
• have low levels of vitamin D
People with high blood pressure often refuse to change their lifestyles because it is so much easier to just take pills. They need to be told that drugs never cure high blood pressure, while lifestyle changes can end the problem permanently.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
The most common known risk factor for high blood pressure is a tendency to have high blood sugar levels after eating. When your blood sugar level rises too high, your pancreas releases large amounts of insulin that constrict arteries to raise blood pressure and increase risk for heart attacks and strokes. A review of twelve studies involving 409,707 participants showed that sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with increased risk for high blood pressure (The American Journal of Cardiology, February 2014). Eating a lot of food laced with sugar is associated with increases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. People who take in 10 to 25 percent of their calories from sugared beverages and foods suffer a 30 percent higher risk for heart attacks, compared with people who take less than ten percent of calories from added sugars (British Medical Journal: Open Heart, Dec. 11, 2014). This study also found that sugars occurring naturally in foods, such as fruit, do not appear to increase risk for high blood pressure or heart attacks.
When to Check Your Blood Pressure
You have high blood pressure if your systolic blood pressure is greater than 120 before you go to bed at night or just after you wake in the morning. That is when your blood pressure is at its lowest level. Blood pressure should be taken just before you go to bed at night because when you first wake up in the morning, blood pressure can be raised by the discomfort of a full bladder.
If your systolic blood pressure is over 120, you should make the following lifestyle changes immediately. I recommend these healthful habits for everyone.
• Avoid overweight
• Do not take sugared drinks in any form, including fruit juices, except during prolonged intense exercise
• Avoid foods with added sugars
• Eat large amounts of fruits and vegetables
• Avoid red meat (meat from mammals) and processed meats
• Avoid fried foods
• Grow muscle
• Keep blood levels of hydroxy-vitamin D above 75 nmol/L
• Avoid smoke, tobacco and air pollution
• Avoid alcohol, or limit it to no more than two drinks per day
Gabe Mirkin, M.D., has been a practicing physician for over 50 years. He is board-certified in sports medicine, allergy and immunology, pediatrics, and pediatric immunology. This article was originally published on DrMirkin.com. Subscribe to his free weekly Fitness & Health newsletter.