High Blood Pressure. Get it Under Control with Atkins
High blood pressure is a
serious health problem, one that you need to get under control as quickly as
possible. If your blood pressure is in the high normal to Stage 1 hypertension
range (131 to 159 over 85 to 99), weight loss and some other important lifestyle
changes may well be enough to bring it down to safer levels. If your blood
pressure is higher than that, you may need antihypertensive medication —but
weight loss and lifestyle improvements can definitely still help.
Step 1: Lose Weight
Because obesity is the leading
risk factor for hypertension, losing weight is the most important step you can
take to lower your blood pressure—and improve other aspects of your health at
the same time. You don't need to trim down a lot to start seeing the benefit.
Losing just 10 pounds will have a positive effect; losing 10 percent of your
body weight will be even better. As a general rule, your systolic blood
pressure (the higher number) will drop one point for every pound you lose.1 In
practical terms, that means losing just 10 pounds could lower your blood
pressure from the high normal range (130 to 139 over 85 to 89) back to normal
(130 over 85 or lower). As your blood pressure drops, so does your risk of a
heart attack or stroke.
The controlled carbohydrate
approach to weight loss is particularly effective in helping your blood
pressure. When you follow the Atkins Nutritional Approach™, you lose weight
steadily and easily on a diet that's naturally high in nutrients such as potassium
and magnesium that have been shown to help reduce blood pressure (see “Mineral
Supplements for Hypertension,” below, for more on this). A controlled carb
program also helps lower high blood sugar. And because high blood pressure and
high blood sugar are very closely linked, you help improve both health problems
For some (although not all)
people with hypertension, reducing the amount of salt in the diet has a beneficial
effect. Today most Americans eat about 3,400 milligrams, or about a tablespoon,
of salt each day. If you're salt-sensitive, doing Atkins will effortlessly
reduce the amount of salt in your diet—in fact, you'll probably easily get down
to a much healthier daily salt intake of about 1,800 milligrams, or about a
teaspoon. That means you’ll still be able to add a touch of salt to your food
to bring out the flavor. Why? Because most of the salt Americans get from their
diet comes from highly processed convenience foods, fast food meals and
snacks—and on Atkins, you'll be eating a lot less of those.
Step 2: Make Lifestyle Changes
Important as weight loss is for
lowering your blood pressure, other changes are just as crucial. And likewise,
such changes will improve not only your blood pressure but also your overall
Smoking is a good example. In
addition to all the other well-known health risks of smoking, it raises your
blood pressure, as does alcohol consumption. Even small amounts of alcohol can
raise your blood pressure. If you regularly drink wine or spirits and have been
diagnosed with high blood pressure, consider limiting yourself to one drink a
day or even eliminating alcohol completely. (Of course, you will not be
drinking any alcohol on the Induction phase of Atkins.)
Of all the lifestyle changes,
however, exercise is perhaps the most important for lowering your blood
pressure. In fact, an analysis of 54 major studies on the value of exercise for
high blood pressure showed without question that regular exercise can lower
your systolic blood pressure by nearly 4 points and lower your diastolic
pressure by just over 2.5 points. Best of all, you get the benefit no matter
how old you are, how much you weigh or how high your blood pressure is.3
The Drawbacks of Drugs
If your blood pressure is
already at or above Stage 1 (141 over 90 or higher), you may need to take
medication in addition to losing weight and making the lifestyle changes
mentioned above. While drugs for hypertension are effective, they often have
unpleasant side effects such as dry cough, fatigue and erectile dysfunction,
and some may actually raise your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. In
addition, many hypertension drugs are expensive—and most patients end up taking
a combination of at least two different medications.
Lowering your blood pressure
the natural way through weight loss, exercise and other lifestyle changes takes
time, however. The risks of uncontrolled high blood pressure are too serious to
wait the three to six months it may take to start seeing improvement. While you
work on your weight-loss and exercise program, you may need to take medication
to lower your pressure more quickly. As you lose weight and get more active,
your blood pressure may well slowly drop below the lower level you achieved
with the medication. When this happens, you may be able to cut back on your
medication or even stop it completely. (Don't do this on your own—always
discuss changing or stopping your medication with your doctor first.) And even
if you still need to take drugs to help manage your hypertension, by losing weight and exercising more, you improve your
overall health, your appearance and your outlook on life.
Mineral Supplements for
If you've lost weight and
started exercising but your blood pressure is still in the high normal to Stage
1 hypertension range (130-159 over 85-99), you may be able to bring it down
some more by getting more of the trace minerals potassium, magnesium and calcium.
Because potassium and magnesium supplements can upset your digestion, the best
way to get more of these important minerals is by adding lots of fresh vegetables
and nuts to your diet—exactly what you do when you do Atkins.
Just one ounce of dry-roasted
almonds, for example, gives you 84 milligrams of magnesium—nearly a quarter of
the recommended daily amount for a woman. The recommended daily amount of potassium
is 4,700 milligrams for an adult. That sounds like a lot, but there's 228
milligrams in half a cup of cooked broccoli, 419 milligrams in half a cup of
cooked spinach, and 403 milligrams in a 3.5-ounce serving of steak. In fact,
eating the controlled carb way it's easy to get 4,000 milligrams of potassium a
day from your food—and that's the amount recent studies have shown really helps
lower your blood pressure.4
Getting extra calcium from your
diet or from a supplement may also help bring your blood pressure down.5 Good
controlled carb sources of dietary calcium include cheese, nuts and leafy green
vegetables such as turnip greens and kale.
In addition to adding more
minerals to your diet, talk to your doctor about taking hawthorn supplements.
The well-regarded German Commission E has approved this herbal remedy in the
form of hawthorn leaf with flower for treating high blood pressure.6 The
amino acid taurine is also sometimes helpful for hypertension, because it can
help improve your body's salt/potassium balance.7
Whelton, P.K., Appel, L.J., Espeland, M.A., et al. "Sodium Reduction and
Weight Loss in the Treatment of Hypertension of Older Persons," Journal
of the American Medical Association, 279, 1998, pages 839-846.
Spangler, J.G., Bell, R.A., Summerson, J.H., and Konen, J.C., "Hyperinsulinemia
in Hypertension," Archives of Family Medicine, 7, 1998, pages
53-56, and Bonner, G., "Hyperinsulinemia, Insulin Resistance, and
Hypertension," Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, 24,
supplement 2, 1994, pages S39-49.
Whelton, S.P., Chin, A., Xin, X., and He, J., "Effect of Aerobic Exercise
on Blood Pressure: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized, Controlled Trials," Annals
of Internal Medicine, 136, 2002, pages 493-503.
Harsha, D.W., Lin, P.H., Obarzenek, E., et al., "Dietary Approaches to
Stop Hypertension: A Summary of Study Results, DASH Collaborative Research
Group," Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 99,
supplement 8, 1999, pages S35-S39.
McCarron, D.A., and Reusser, M.E., "Finding Consensus in the Dietary
Calcium–Blood Pressure Debate," Journal of the American College of
Nutrition, 18, supplement 5, 1999, pages 398S-405S.
Blumenthal, Mark, ed.,Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs
Integrative Medicine Communications, 2000).
Kohashi, N., and Katori, R., "Decrease of Urinary Taurine in Essential
Heart Journal, 24, 1983, pages 91-102.