WASHINGTON -- A new scientific review shows that high blood pressure can be reduced with diet changes, especially a vegetarian diet. The new report analyzes the results of published studies and concludes that vegetarian populations have lower rates of hypertension, “the silent killer.” This report, authored by nutritionist Susan E. Berkow, Ph.D., C.N.S., and Neal D. Barnard, M.D., is the lead article in the January issue of the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition Reviews.
Included in the analysis are studies published in top journals such as The Lancet and The Journal of the American Medical Association. In addition to the population trends, these studies show that individual patients also experience the blood pressure-lowering effect of a vegetarian diet.
Vegetarians tend to be slimmer, on average, and that is one reason their blood pressure is often in the healthy range. Other mechanisms include vegetarians’ higher intake of potassium as well as the tendency of plant-based foods to modulate blood viscosity. As blood pressure is lowered, vegetarian populations experience a reduced risk of stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure
“Many people fear the side effects of blood pressure-lowering drugs, along with the expense. Our analysis of 80 scientific studies suggests that a vegetarian diet may be a simple, drug-free treatment for the ‘silent killer,’” says Dr. Berkow, lead author of the study. “My advice to people at risk for hypertension is to substitute a veggie burger for a hamburger tonight and have pasta marinara without the meatballs tomorrow. After about six weeks of such simple changes you might see your blood pressure—and your body weight—begin to drop.” Because high blood pressure is dangerous, the researchers caution that individuals should see their doctors and assess whether diet alone is sufficient, or whether drugs are also needed.
Drs. Berkow and Barnard summarized their findings in the article this way:
Randomized clinical trials have shown that BP [blood pressure] is lowered when animal products are replaced with vegetable products in both normotensives and hypertensives (5,7,26). The beneficial expected consequences of a reduction in BP include a reduction in major coronary events (29). Vegetarians have been shown to have a lower incidence of coronary heart disease (30), ischemic heart disease and a reduced risk of ischemic heart disease-related death(31, 32) compared to non-vegetarians.
For a copy of the new paper published in Nutrition Reviews or an interview with one of the authors, please contact Jeanne S. McVey at 202-686-2210, ext. 316, or 415-509-1833.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, especially good nutrition. PCRM also conducts clinical research studies, opposes unethical human experimentation, and promotes alternatives to animal research.
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