Sensible dietary modifications can help lower hypertension and blood pressure

Dietary modifications and lifestyle changes can prevent hypertension and cure borderline hypertension. Reducing intake of sodium is an important element of this approach. Other interventions, which are perhaps just as important, exist but they are not as widely known.

Salt restriction: Essentially hypertension, the most common cause of high blood pressure in adults, occurs only in societies with an average daily salt intake of more than 2.3 gm of sodium (around 6 gm of common salt). Reducing salt intake to 2.3 gm of sodium or less can cut BP readings by 5 mm Hg. More importantly, over a few decades, sodium restriction can minimize the normal rise in BP associated with aging. Keep in mind that sodium exists in more forms than just common salt. Baking soda, for example, is also a source of sodium.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet comprises four-five servings of fruit, four-five servings of vegetables, two-three servings of low-fat dairy per day, and less than 25 per cent fat. The DASH diet can lower blood pressure by up to 10 mm Hg in those with borderline hypertension, and it can lower BP enough to prevent hypertension in those with normal BP. The DASH diet has the additional benefit of lowering cardiovascular risk by favourably modifying cholesterol levels.

The combination of a low sodium and DASH diet is the most effective approach.

Potassium supplements, around 40 to 80 mEq per day, can lower blood pressure, but the effect is not significant in those already on a low-salt DASH diet. Besides, they can be quite unpalatable and are unlikely to find wide acceptance.

Tea and cocoa contain polyphenols (eg, flavonoids) that have modest a blood pressure-lowering effect.

Vegetarian diets, especially those rich in dietary fibre, can lower blood pressure by a few mm Hg. Soy protein intake may reduce BP by a similar amount.

Increased intake of folate may decrease risk of hypertension. One study showed that women who consumed at least 1000ìg/day of total folate had a reduced risk of developing hypertension when compared with those who took less than 200 ìg per day.

Fish oil supplements and regular intake of fatty fish can modestly lower BP.

Avoid having more than two alcoholic drinks per day. Stop smoking.

Dietary interventions may not be effective enough to replace anti-hypertensive therapy, although even in severe cases they can help lower dose requirement of drugs.


(The writer is a specialist in Internal Medicine)