Food for Thought Blog

Hypertension & How to Prevent It

This guest blog post was written by Mount Mary University Dietetic Student Lisa Hillstrom

Effects of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can damage your health in many ways. It can seriously hurt important organs like your heart and brain. High blood pressure can harden your arteries, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart and lead to heart disease. In addition, decreased blood flow to the heart can cause:

  • Chest pain, also called angina.
  • Heart failure, a condition when your heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to your other organs.
  • Heart attack, which occurs when the blood supply to your heart is blocked and heart muscle begins to die without enough oxygen. The longer the blood flow is blocked, the greater the damage to the heart.

High blood pressure can burst or block arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain, causing a stroke. Brain cells die during a stroke because they do not get enough oxygen. Stroke can cause serious disabilities in speech, movement, and other basic activities, and a stroke can kill you. Adults with diabetes, high blood pressure, or both have a higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease than those without these diseases. Approximately 1 of 3 adults with diabetes and 1 of 5 adults with high blood pressure have chronic kidney disease.

How Can You Prevent or Control High Blood Pressure?

There are many risk factors for high blood pressure. Risk factors are conditions or behaviors that increase your chances of developing a disease. When you have more than one risk factor for heart disease, your risk of developing heart disease greatly multiplies. So if you have high blood pressure, you need to take action. Fortunately, you can control most heart disease risk factors. Some risk factors, such as unhealthy lifestyle habits, can be changed. Other risk factors, such as age, family history and genetics, race and ethnicity, and sex, cannot be changed. Healthy lifestyle changes including following a low sodium diet can decrease your risk for developing high blood pressure. 

Risk factors you can control

  • Unhealthy eating patterns, such as eating too much sodium
  • Consuming excessive alcohol
  • Being physically inactive

Risk factors beyond your control

  • Age. Blood pressure tends to increase with age. Our blood vessels naturally thicken and stiffen over time.
  • Family History and Genetics. High blood pressure often runs in families. Some people have a high sensitivity to sodium which can also run in families.
  • Sex. Before age 55, men are more likely than women to develop high blood pressure. After age 55, women are more likely than men to develop high blood pressure.

Health Benefits of the DASH Eating Plan

The DASH eating plan has been proven to lower blood pressure in studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. In addition to being a low salt plan, the DASH eating plan provides additional benefits to reduce blood pressure. It is based on an eating plan rich in fruits and vegetables, low-fat or non-fat dairy, and whole grains. It is a high fiber, low to moderate fat diet, rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The DASH diet is a healthy plan, designed for the whole family. New research continues to show additional health benefits of the plan.

The DASH eating plan has been proven to lower blood pressure in just 14 days, even without lowering sodium intake. For people with more severe hypertension who may not be able to eliminate medication, the DASH diet can help improve response to medication, and help lower blood pressure. The DASH diet can help lower cholesterol, and with weight loss and exercise, can reduce insulin resistance and reduce the risk of developing diabetes.4

In part 3 of our series, we will take a closer look at the specific components of the DASH eating plan and offer helpful tips for incorporating DASH into your lifestyle!

For more information, visit:

Back to Blog