Dietary Components That Affect Blood Pressure
While some people must take medication to reduce their blood pressure in order to preserve their healthspan and lifespan, it is usually recommended to try diet- and exercise-based approaches first. While excessive sodium is often a significant culprit in hypertension, controlling sodium intake is far from the only factor in regulating blood pressure, and many other dietary components play direct roles.
Magnesium, which promotes the widening of blood vessels (vasodilation), is essential to blood pressure regulation. It is predominantly located outside cells. People who have hypertension and do not take blood pressure medication have low levels of magnesium in serum  and in red blood cells .
Good sources of magnesium include nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, select dairy products, leafy greens, avocados, bananas, and cocoa. People on restrictive diets or who take diuretic medication may want to consider taking magnesium supplements. Early deficiency symptoms include shaking, muscle cramps, vomiting, and fatigue, and extreme deficiency can lead to heart arrhythmia [3,4].
There is not yet a recognized way to measure magnesium in the body. More research needs to be done on assessing magnesium in the diet and how magnesium supplements impact blood pressure.
Like magnesium, potassium promotes vasodilation and is essential for regular blood flow. However, unlike magnesium, it is predominantly found inside the cell. Potassium is found in a variety of foods, including many fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, poultry, and grain products. In the United States, the adequate intake for healthy adults is set as 2,300 to 3,400 milligrams per day. However, Canadian, European, New Zealand, and Australia have set ranges between 4500 to 4700 milligrams per day. The U.S. guidelines might be changed in the future if research determines a chronic disease risk reduction (CDRR) intake.
A meta-analysis of 25 research studies showed that people who took potassium supplements, especially people who had high sodium intake and were previously not meeting potassium recommendations, significantly decreased their blood pressure .
Inadequate potassium (hypokalemia) can cause high blood pressure, increase the risk of kidney stones, and be harmful to bone health. Excessive vomiting, loose stools, and excessive sweating can lead to this potentially life-threatening condition .
Potassium is another nutrient that does not yet have a standard procedure for assessment. Blood levels are poorly correlated with tissue stores of potassium [6,7], and taking tissue biopsies has its disadvantages as well.
Protein and amino acids
One study showed that pregnant female rats fed a diet low in protein had offspring with high blood pressure. The authors further showed that blood pressure could be decreased by providing a glycine supplement . Human studies have not yet shown if an increase in protein or a decrease in carbohydrate intake affect blood pressure. One human study partially substituted carbohydrates with monounsaturated fat, which improved LDL, HDL, triglycerides, and cholesterol while lowering blood pressure . A meta-analysis of 46 studies compared the difference between animal and plant proteins on blood pressure, and the authors concluded that there was not enough mechanistic nor substantial evidence for a conclusion .
A lack of protein in the diet has numerous consequences, including muscle wasting, edema, and hair loss [11,12,13]. Nitrogen balance is assessed to determine protein intake , but the exact value of the nitrogen in the food needs to be known, so this can be difficult to measure in clinical settings. Other biochemical and clinical measures can be used to assess protein malnutrition.
Calcium prompts vascular smooth muscle contraction. Muscle tone and movement are affected by the influx of calcium through L-type calcium channels . A study using a knockout mouse model of L-type CaV1.2 calcium channels demonstrated a significant reduction in mean arterial blood pressure .
A meta-analysis reviewed 9 non-calcium supplements along with 33 calcium supplements in various studies. There was a greater reduction in blood pressure when calcium was provided in foods; however, it was not significantly different from the reduction provided by supplements .
There currently is no standard for testing calcium in bodily fluids. When blood does not have enough calcium, it pulls it from bone tissue. The best way to track calcium intake is to calculate it based on consumed food. Bone health and body composition can be analyzed with X-ray imaging, such as a DEXA scan.
Observational studies have established a correlation between dietary fiber and blood pressure [18,19]. People in cultures that consume more plants tend to have lower blood pressure than people in more industrialized societies, who generally consume less fiber [20,21,22]. However, a few clinical trials did not support the hypothesis that dietary fiber lowered blood pressure [23,24,25], which highlights the challenge of linking blood pressure regulation to a single nutrient or single food group.
Increasing fiber above current recommended guidelines could increase lifespan , and inadequate fiber can lead to an increased risk of certain cancers. In particular, there has been strong evidence that people who consume more fibrous foods have a reduced incidence of colon cancer .
There is strong evidence to show that exercise can improve hypertension and is very important for heart health. Although the exact exercise prescription for optimal blood pressure reduction has not yet been determined, numerous studies have been published on the benefits of exercise and physical activity for improving cardiovascular health.
Other nutrients, nutraceuticals and lifestyle interventions can help regulate blood pressure as well, and modifiable risk factors include smoking, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol intake, and certain medications. Specific eating risk factors for hypertension include diets low in vegetables and fruit and diets high in saturated fat and sodium.
If you want to improve or maintain your heart health, it starts with you. Even small changes in your diet and lifestyle habits can make a difference in your heart health over time.
This article is only a very brief summary. It is not intended as an exhaustive guide and is based on the interpretation of research data, which is speculative by nature. This article is not a substitute for consulting your physician and dietitian about which supplements may or may not be right for you. We do not endorse supplement use or any product or supplement vendor, and all discussion here is for scientific interest.
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