High Blood Pressure and Heart Health
By Brandy Buro, RD, LD
February 7, 2023
February is National Heart Month and we want to focus on the connection between nutrition and hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Getting your blood pressure checked is a simple test that happens during a medical professional visit. But what do the numbers mean? If you have high blood pressure, have you ever considered that your food choices could be influencing your blood pressure numbers?
Hypertension is a very complicated topic with many different causes, but as nutritionists we want to share information about what foods increase blood pressure, what nutrients help to prevent high blood pressure, and what supplements we recommend to help manage blood pressure issues.
What Is Blood Pressure?
Your blood vessels carry blood to all the parts of your body. When the heart pumps the blood, it is pushed against the walls of your arteries as it travels through your body. Your blood pressure is how much pressure the blood creates and can be a marker for how healthy your arteries are.
How Blood Pressure Is Measured
Blood pressure is measured with two numbers, commonly shown as one number over the other. For example, a normal reading would be 120/80. The top number measures the systolic blood pressure. Systolic is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats or when the heart muscle contracts. The lower number is the diastolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats when the heart muscle is resting and filling with blood.
Again, a normal range for blood pressure is less than 120 for the top number and less than 80 for the bottom number.
According to the CDC and The American College of Cardiology, the first stage of hypertension begins with the systolic blood pressure is between 130-139 and the diastolic is between 80-89.
It’s important to work with your medical professional to know your numbers and what to do if they are out of the ideal range. The tricky thing with blood pressure is that there often aren’t any signs of high blood pressure, which is why it’s considered “the silent killer” and why it’s important to get this regularly checked.
What Happens When You Have High Blood Pressure?
When your blood pressure is high, it’s likely that your arteries are stiff. You can imagine your vessels like a worn-out garden hose that gets stiff and clogged with debris. As the arteries harden and build more debris, the heart has to pump harder to get the blood through, increasing the pressure against the artery walls. The amount of pressure your blood has against your arteries leaves you at risk for other health issues because that pressure can damage your blood vessels, especially the fragile vessels that go to important organs like your heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. These vital organs receive blood through small vessels, which are more susceptible to damage due to their size.
High blood pressure and many other cardiovascular problems are caused by inflammation. We know when your joints are chronically inflamed, you can get arthritis. If your lungs are inflamed, you can develop asthma. If your brain is inflamed, there’s a risk for Alzheimer’s. If your arteries are chronically inflamed, they become damaged, stiff, and clogged with plaque, increasing your blood pressure.
What Might Cause Your Arteries To Be Inflamed And Stiff?
- Some genetics play in with this issue: do you have a family history of heart disease or heart issues? If yes, you might have to be more diligent with caring for your heart.
- Smoking: there are 300 different toxins in tobacco that damage your arteries. Smoking has been found to raise blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and speed up the plaque buildup in your arteries.
- Processed foods high in carbs: refined, processed carbs convert into sugar very quickly when they are digested. Sugar in any form creates more inflammation throughout our bodies, and certainly in our arteries. What foods give us all that hidden sugar? Soda, cakes, doughnuts, muffins, pizza, potato chips, corn chips, popcorn, bread, rolls, bagels, English muffins, beer and French fries to name a few.
- Refined oils and damaged fats: these damaged oils and fats also create more inflammation in the body and make the membranes of all your cells hard and crusty, including the cells in your arteries. This leads to the hardening of your arteries and elevated blood pressure. We want flexible arteries so blood can flow freely.
Sugar equals inflammation, equals stiff arteries, equals high blood pressure.
What To Eat To Help Your Arteries
Sources of vitamin K: vitamin K1 (leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, beet greens, collard greens, chard, mustard greens) and vitamin K2 (chicken, beef, pork, liver, eggs, fermented foods). All forms of vitamin K play a role in heart health, but vitamin K2 is most known for helping prevent calcium deposits in soft tissue. Without sufficient vitamin K, your arteries can become calcified and stiff. What does calcification look like in your arteries? This is when calcium gets deposited in the soft tissue of the arteries instead of the bones, which makes the arteries stiff and up goes the blood pressure.
Fruits and veggies high in potassium: Broccoli, bananas, kiwis, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, tomato sauce, beet greens, kidney beans, carrots, winter squash, spinach and avocadoes. Potassium is a mineral essential for your blood vessels to dilate (expand), allowing blood to flow through them easily, helping keep your blood pressure normal. For blood vessel health we should try to get about 4500mg of potassium daily from our food.
Chili would be a great high potassium meal. With the tomato sauce, kidney beans, some chopped carrots, you have over 1500 mg of potassium for lunch. Add a salad and you double that number. It is easy to get 4500mg of potassium daily!
What Lifestyle Habits Help Decrease Your Blood Pressure?
- Stress management: just like food has a connection to how you feel, there is also a mind-body connection. If you have a lot of stress in your life, it can be hard to relax the systems in your body. Stress of all kinds increases the heart rate and blood pressure in the moment. Chronic stress elevates blood pressure long-term and worsens damage to the arteries. Explore some stress management tools to help bring a sense of calm.
- Sleep: a great tool for stress management and recovery! If you aren’t getting enough sleep, a lot of things with your health can be out of whack. We have many podcasts and articles on how to improve your quality of sleep if you need help in this area.
- Exercise: physical activity will increase your blood pressure in the moment, but overall it will improve the health of your cardiovascular system. Think of your heart like a muscle. When you exercise the heart, it gets stronger, and it is able to do more work with less effort over time. Exercise can also be a great stress management tool and help improve your sleep! The American Heart Association recommends getting 30 minutes of moderate activity at least five times a week.
What Supplements Support The Health Of Your Arteries?
Whenever our nutritionists and dietitians work with clients at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we always address food first because we understand food matters. If your diet is lacking in certain items, you may need to fill in the gaps with high quality supplements, especially if your blood pressure is trending up into the at-risk ranges.
- Magnesium glycinate: this is the first supplement we recommend for blood pressure. 68% of the population is deficient in this mineral and magnesium is important to relax all the muscles in your body. In addition to our heart being a muscle, our arteries are actually muscles, so magnesium helps the arteries relax (or dilate), meaning the heart doesn’t have to pump as hard for the blood to flow. Less effort or pressure is needed for blood flow!
- Omega-3 fatty acids: not many people eat a can of sardines daily, so most people need a good quality fish oil supplement. Essential omega-3 fatty acids help reduce overall inflammation and prevent hardening of the arteries. Omega-3 helps increase HDL cholesterol, which clears out the type of cholesterol that can clog arteries. For blood pressure management I recommend 3000-4000mg/day.
- Vitamin D3: elevated blood pressure which results in an increased risk for a heart attack is associated with a vitamin D deficiency. Your vitamin D levels can be checked with a simple blood test and is safe and easy to supplement for (NutriKey even has a D3 with K2 to give you even more heart-healthy benefits!)
- Potassium: like mentioned above, is an important mineral to get from real food sources. If you aren’t eating enough potassium rich foods or if you take a diuretic, you may need to supplement. Often folks with high blood pressure will be prescribed a diuretic to help manage blood pressure.
- Coq10: this is a heart healthy antioxidant that supports energy, metabolism, immune function, cardiovascular and gum health. Often people with high blood pressure will also have high cholesterol and will be prescribed a statin. Certain statin medications stop the liver's production of CoQ10. In fact, when a statin is prescribed in Europe, they also prescribe CoQ10.
Work With A Dietitian Or Nutritionist To Support Blood Pressure
Hypertension is a very complicated health condition, but one that can be course-corrected with many solution options. Food matters and lifestyle changes can make a big impact. There are many other supplements that support cardiovascular health, but we believe it is best to make an appointment with one of the nutritionists at Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We can help you make the best plan customized just for you!