“My husband has recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure – there is a history of high blood pressure in his family which may be part of the problem. He is now on medication but wants to reduce it naturally and get healthier as he put on weight during lockdown. What are your thoughts on the family history and possible diet tweaks?”
Suzie Sawyer, Clinical Nutritionist, answers:
There can be a genetic link with high blood pressure, but this doesn’t mean that it can’t be effectively managed through diet and lifestyle changes. Even if your husband can reduce his medication, this will be a bonus.
Assessing your lifestyle
Increased weight does raise the risk of high blood pressure so your husband should look at why his weight has gone up. Have his portion sizes increased, is he drinking more alcohol or caffeine, has his sugar intake risen, how much exercise is he taking and is he sleeping seven or eight hours a night? All these factors are key to address in cases of high blood pressure, and sleep is especially important as it affects metabolic balance within the body.
It’s very important to include plenty of vitamin C-rich vegetables and fruit daily in meals and snacks. Indeed, the more colourful the diet the better. These foods provide loads of antioxidants which help protect the artery walls from damage as well as promoting vasodilation, which helps reduce pressure on the artery wall.
Equally, eating oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel at least two to three times a week, also helps reduce blood pressure and general inflammation throughout the body. Good fats from nuts, seeds, avocados and plant oils such as olive are beneficial too.
There is plenty of research to show that a typical Mediterranean diet which is rich in fish, beans, tomatoes, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains is effective at reducing blood pressure and keeping the cardiovascular system in good working order.
Stress is another risk factor for high blood pressure. While it’s almost impossible to eradicate stress from our lives completely, it’s important to try and manage it in ways that suit us individually. Taking a brisk walk, practising mediation, doing yoga, listing to music, or reading a book, but it’s important to find relaxation techniques that work for him.
Taking regular exercise is also imperative for keeping blood pressure in optimal range. This might just be a daily stroll for 30 minutes; again, whatever works. It’s also worth noting that taking a brisk walk even for 20 minutes straight after dinner, is effective at encouraging weight loss as it helps manage the insulin response.
Lastly, sleep is just as important as diet and exercise. Many of us have found that our sleep patterns were disrupted during lockdown and haven’t recovered. Taking some herbs such as passionflower or valerian and turning off all blue light (emitted from electronic devices) at least two hours before bedtime can help. Setting a regular sleep time and getting into positive sleep hygiene habits before bed every evening can also aid a restful night.