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Health & Medical

BEYOND TRIM: More of us are under pressure, but a DASH of prevention can be worth a pound of cure

Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center
Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center

In November, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association released new blood pressure guidelines that suggest high blood pressure should be treated earlier – at 130/80 rather than the previous guideline of 140/90.

This new guideline means that nearly half of the U.S. adult population now technically has a diagnosis of hypertension.

What does this mean for you? First and most importantly, you should have your blood pressure checked regularly.

Many people with elevated blood pressure have no symptoms, yet may still experience adverse health effects.

High blood pressure can damage blood vessels, allowing plaque to build up on the insides of arteries or potentially cause ruptures in the wall of the blood vessel.

Over time, high blood pressure causes the heart to get larger and weaker, causing heart failure. It also can cause dementia and kidney failure.

A blood pressure of 130/80 doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go on medication. Lifestyle changes can be very effective. Here are just a few things you can do to prevent or control hypertension:

• Lose weight.

• Limit alcohol.

• Quit smoking.

• Exercise regularly.

• Follow a diet that’s low in sodium and higher in potassium from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, i.e. the DASH diet.

The DASH diet – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and consistently ranks as one of the best dietary patterns to follow. This eating plan focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, and limits sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, red meat, and added fats.

Research has shown that it is as effective as some blood pressure medications at lowering blood pressure. It also has been shown to reduce the risk of some cancers, stroke, heart disease, heart failure, kidney stones and diabetes.

Someone recently asked me to recommend a book about the DASH diet. While there are so many available that it’s hard to choose, it’s really not necessary to purchase a book if you have access to the internet.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s websites have tons of free information about the DASH diet, including free recipes and meal plans.

You really can improve your blood pressure by changing your habits and behaviors. I know, because I did it.

A few years ago, during a routing blood donation, I learned that my blood pressure was elevated. Now I watch my sodium and sugar intake, and I use fewer NSAID pain relievers, as I read that those also can increase blood pressure.

My pressure has been in better than “normal” ranges and stable for a couple of years now.

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