By all accounts hypertension or high blood pressure is a modern condition. A condition which for many, has come about due to years of poor nutrition, little or no exercise and being overweight or obese
In the USA, high blood pressure statistics are beyond scary. 1 in every 3 adults has high blood pressure, however only 52% of them actually have their condition under control. This costs the economy $46 billion each year due to medication costs and missed days of work. Clearly this a massive health issue (1)
Unfortunately the problem doesn’t stop there. Hypertension is in turn a risk factor for various life threatening diseases such as a stroke or in the long term, cardio vascular disease or renal disease (2).
What Is Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the force of blood which pushes against the walls of our arteries as our heart pumps blood around our bodies (3).
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is defined as having blood pressure which is measured above 120/80 mmHG. For it to be described as a chronic condition the blood pressure needs to be elevated (above 140/90 mmHG) on several consecutive readings over a period of time (4).
Blood pressure can be momentarily raised for various reasons including caffeine consumption, acute stress or even sometimes what we call ‘white coat syndrome’. For some reason some people’s blood pressure readings increase due to seeing a health professional such as a doctor or a nurse. In this case it is best for the patient to be sent home with a device which measures blood pressure periodically throughout the day and night. This is the best way to make sure the diagnosis is accurate.
Why is High Blood Pressure so Dangerous?
If you can imagine that your arteries are dam walls, and high blood pressure is the water crashing against these walls you can begin to understand that over time this constant pressure is bound to weaken the dam walls. In the case of the human body, high blood pressure can affect many different areas of the body.
Over time, high blood pressure can cause the blood vessels in your brain to become narrowed. This narrowing raises the risk of a blood vessel becoming blocked or bursting.High blood pressure is one of the main reasons for a stroke occurring. A stroke occurs as a result of blockage in the brain, because of this blockage oxygenated blood cannot get to that part of the brain and the brain cells may become damaged or die off. Strokes are extremely life threatening and can lead to disability or death.
What causes high blood pressure?
There are various reasons for high blood pressure. For many of us these reasons are lifestyle related and we are therefore able to control the factors leading to elevated blood pressure. For others the reasons may be related to a primary illness, disease or condition or in some cases, simply a genetic predisposition.
Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure
As we’ve mentioned, there are in some cases some reasons for chronic elevated blood pressure (5), which cannot be changed:
Age: As we age, our blood pressure may rise
Gender: Women over the age of 65 are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, whilst men under the age of 45 are more at risk than women of the same age.
Race: African- Americans are more likely to have elevated blood pressure
Family history: A genetic predisposition may mean that your high blood pressure is unavoidable. This is especially true for direct family members such as a mother or brother.
There are also those risk factors that we DO have control over:
Being overweight or obese
Living a sedentary lifestyle
Having a high intake of alcohol
How the Paleo Diet can Help:
If one has to look at the risk factors mentioned above, it is quite easy to see that that the Paleo philosophy will go a long way to addressing some of these risk factors and potentially help to lower if not normalise high blood pressure (6, 7).
Even if your main reason for choosing the Paleo way of life is not weight loss, for many this ends up being a fantastic and welcomed side effect. Cutting out sugar and refined grains often means instant and sustained weight loss without feeling restricted or deprived.Further more there have been numerous studies which have found that even a small amount of weight loss (between 5 and 10 pounds) makes a significant difference when it comes to lowering blood pressure values (8).
Lowered refined carbohydrate and sugar intake
The Paleo diet is not strictly defined as a low carb diet. Instead, whole unprocessed natural carbohydrates are encouraged in relation to your activity level and blood glucose profiles. A 2010 study found that although many diets may lead to weight loss, specifically a lower carb diet leads to decreased blood pressure values (independent of weight loss) (9).
Increased intake of nutrient rich foods
It is decades old advice to lower your salt for reduced blood pressure. Newer research has highlighted the fact that it may not be what you do take in, but rather what you are lacking. The ratio of your intake of sodium in comparison to potassium is far more important than singling out sodium as the culprit.Unfortunately the average Western date is extremely low in these vital minerals and conversely extremely high in salt and refined sugar. This is the perfect combination for ill health and disease.
The Paleo diet assists in that your intake of food rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium increases (10,11).Eating Paleo naturally encourages an intake of foods with an extremely high nutrient density, which helps to address the imbalance and assist in bringing don your blood pressure.
Foods like sweet potato, salmon, mushrooms, bananas and pumpkin are among those which supply us with a healthy dose of potassium.
Following the Paleo way of life is not only about changing your diet, it is about changing your whole lifestyle to reflect that of Paleolithic man. Firstly,this means increased exercise and movement, even if you start out slowly at first. Secondly this means finding ways to lower your stress and switch off. A stressful lifestyle. Lastly if you have any unhealthy habits such as smoking cigarettes or binge drinking it is crucial to find a way to lessen these behaviours or give them up entirely.