New research continues to show that having what was once considered to be a “textbook” blood pressure reading of 120/80 mmHg no longer keeps you out of the heart health danger zone. The latest study, which was presented at the American Heart Association’s Council on Hypertension 2016 Scientific Sessions, concluded that lowering systolic blood pressure (the top number in your blood pressure reading) to below 120 would save more than 100,000 lives per year in the United States.
The study called SPRINT, which stands for Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, included over 9,000 adults age 50 and older who had high blood pressure and were at high risk for heart disease. The SPRINT trial found that when systolic blood pressure was lowered to below 120 mmHg, there was a 27 percent reduction in mortality from all causes when compared to lowering blood pressure to below 140 mmHg.
As newer research findings continue to show the risks of even mildly high blood pressure, the American Heart Association—which sets the standards for blood pressure—has revised its blood pressure categories. Currently, there are 5 blood pressure categories, and heart health concerns start at lower levels than ever before. Let's look at another pre-hypertension investigation.
More Research Showing Pre-Hypertension Is Risky Business
Researchers at Southern Medical University in China examined results from 19 previous research studies on stroke risk and hypertension. What they found is that those with even slightly high blood pressure (120/80 mmHg) were at a 66% greater risk of having a stroke compared to those in the normal blood pressure range.
This was true regardless of other stroke risk factors, such as smoking and diabetes. What’s also important is the higher the blood pressure, the higher the stroke risk. Those individuals at the high end of pre-hypertensive—meaning they had a blood pressure over 130/85 mmHg—had a 95% higher stroke risk than those with normal blood pressure.
Get more of Dr. Sinatra's advice on Healthy Blood Pressure
While an earlier study found there to be no increased stroke risk in the low pre-hypertension range, these researchers cast a wider net to reduce confounding factors, and analyzed many earlier findings. Their conclusions now enforce their recommendation that those with even mild pre-hypertension make lifestyle changes for better health—which is something I covered extensively in my webinar. I agree that it's always better to err on the side of caution and prevention.
What About High Blood Pressure and Salt Intake?
For decades, salt restriction has been a mainstay recommendation for anyone with high blood pressure. Salt is sodium chloride, and both sodium and chloride are key electrolytes in the body. But a few recent studies suggest that there may be a sweet spot for salt intake, and it often takes juggling by both the patient and physician to get it right. As with most things, no one size fits all.
While I agree that most healthy folks should limit sodium intake to less than 2,800 mg a day, that's not necessarily the case if you have heart failure. Salt does promote water retention, which can lead to high blood pressure. But if you are have congestive heart failure along with your hypertension, I'm a little more relaxed with salt because lower sodium levels may have the potential to cause harm.
Excessive salt restriction can precipitate dangerously high renin levels. Renin is a hormone secreted by the kidney that's involved in the renin-angiotensin hormonal system that regulates water and blood pressure balance. High levels cause the renal arteries to tighten up and constrict, resisting blood flow and elevating blood pressure.
Salt is also a volume expander, so we need enough to get better blood flow through the kidneys. We are still learning the health consequences of long term salt restriction, so if you have heart failure work with your doctor to monitor your lab results and your blood pressure to maintain healthy renal function.
What Should You Do If Your Blood Pressure Is Creeping Up?
- While you watch your salt intake (as explained above), increase your potassium intake. Potassium helps to bring blood pressure down by relaxing the arterial walls. Plus, it helps to prevent strokes and heart attacks.
- Exercise. Studies show that moderate exercise—such as walking, dancing, or golf—can reduce blood pressure levels significantly.
- Eat garlic. Garlic acts as a natural ACE inhibitor, helping to lower high blood pressure. Strive for a clove a day.
- Take an omega-3 oil (1-2 grams daily) such as squid or fish oil.
Now it’s your turn: Have you tried any of these steps to lower high blood pressure?