Hypertension, often referred to as high blood pressure (BP), is one of the most common yet silent chronic diseases that affects up to 1 in 3 adults in the United Kingdom. Despite being one of the biggest risk factors of cardiovascular disease, high BP is both preventable and manageable. In this blog, we will explore some of the non-modifiable and modifiable risk factors of high BP.
Non-modifiable risk factors
Non-modifiable risk factors are factors that cannot be changed or adjusted, hence they are out of our control. These include:
Having a family history of high BP means that someone within your immediate family has been diagnosed with high BP before the age of 60 years. The more family members that live with the condition, the greater the risk.
As we age our risk of high BP increases. This is due to changes in the heart and blood vessels, whereby there is a loss of elasticity in the tissues found in our arteries. This loss of elasticity results in stiffening and a reduced ability to stretch, leading to increased BP.
More men are affected by high BP in early life, whereas after the age of 60 years more women have high BP. These differences are largely due to differing hormone profiles between men and women, and the hormonal changes associated with menopause.
People of African and Black Caribbean descent have an increase in the risk of high BP . This is said to be down to genetic predisposition that increases sensitivity to salt in the diet by as little as 1 gram of extra salt per day can increase systolic BP, the pressure exerted on blood vessels when the heart contracts, by as little as much as 5mmHg; the unit of measurement that used when determining BP.
Modifiable risk factors
These are the factors that are in our control, including:
High salt diet
Excess dietary salt is one of the biggest risk factors for high BP. It is recommended adults in the UK consume no more than 6g per day, however the average intake is around 8g. Consuming too much salt causes the body to retain water to dilute the increased levels of salt which, in turn, increases BP.
Foods high in salt include:
- Ready meals, such as pizza
- Smoked and cured meats
- Foods canned with added salt, such as beans
- Adding table salt to meals and cooking
Excess body weight increases the risk of high BP through several mechanisms. When an individual is overweight, the heart must work harder to pump blood around the body. Weight loss of 10kg can reduce systolic BP by as much as 5-20mmHg.
Smoking just 1 cigarette can produce an immediate and temporary 5-10mmHg increase in BP. This is primarily due to the short- and long-term effects of nicotine in increasing heart rate and in the narrowing and hardening of arteries.
Undertaking regular exercise helps to make our heart stronger, and a stronger heart can pump more blood more efficiently. It is recommended we undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging. Doing so can lower BP by as much as 5-8mmHg.
Managing/reversing high blood pressure
Recent evidence looked at changes in blood pressure in the 143 people who completed the Counterweight-Plus programme as part of the DiRECT clinical trial. At the start of the Counterweight-Plus programme blood pressure medications were stopped, and only restarted if blood pressure rose. The weight loss resulted in a significant reduction in blood pressure, and for some no further need for blood pressure medications when weight loss is sustained.
Are you looking for ways to reduce your blood pressure and potentially reduce/stop your blood pressure medication? Speak to one of our dietitians today about starting the Counterweight-Plus programme...