A study of 14,392 individuals with high blood pressure, followed for 5-10 years, found that those who adopted a healthful lifestyle along with taking medication had a much lower risk for suffering heart attacks and lived significantly longer than those who treated their high blood pressure just with drugs (JAMA Netw Open, Feb 1, 2022;5(2):e2146118). The lifestyle factors studied were:
• not smoking
• eating an anti-inflammatory diet
• exercising regularly
• avoiding overweight
• getting seven hours of sleep each night
More than 1.13 billion adults worldwide (Lancet, 2017;389(10064):37-55) and nearly half of U.S. adults (116 million) have hypertension, defined as a systolic blood pressure greater than 130 mm Hg or a diastolic blood pressure greater than 80 mm Hg, or currently taking medication for hypertension (CDC Facts About Hypertension, Jan 28, 2020). In spite of the many blood pressure medicines on the market today, the incidence of high blood pressure has increased considerably over the past 40 years (Nat Rev Nephrol, 2020;16(4):223-237) and today causes more than 10 million deaths per year (JAMA Cardiol, 2017;2(7):775-781). Following a healthful lifestyle may be more important than just taking medication in the treatment for high blood pressure (BMJ, 2019;364:l571; J Am Coll Cardiol, 2018;71(19):e127-e248) because it lowers both high blood pressure and heart attack risk (Nat Rev Cardiol, 2021;18(4):251-275). There is data to show that people who adopt a healthful lifestyle without taking medication have a lower risk of stroke or heart failure, compared with those who used antihypertensive medications but did not adhere to a healthful lifestyle (J Hypertens, 2013;31(11):2158-2164).
How Anti-Inflammatory Habits Can Lower Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can be caused by an overactive immune system (Hypertension Research, Apr 7, 2016;39:567–573). When a germ enters your body, your immune system produces white blood cells and chemicals called cytokines that attach to and try to kill the invading germ, but as soon as the germ is gone, your immune system is supposed to dampen down. If your immune system stays active all the time (called “inflammation“), it uses the same cells and chemicals to attack you. The same thing happens when tissue is damaged; your immune system uses the cells and chemicals to help tissue heal. Any invading germs and anything that damages tissue can cause your immune system to turn on and cause inflammation. An overactive immune system can constrict blood vessels and prevent them from widening, which causes high blood pressure. Everyone with high blood pressure should adopt an anti-inflammatory lifestyle to help treat their hypertension, and people without high blood pressure should do the same to help prevent high blood pressure in the future.
Following an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
• Anti-inflammatory foods include vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole (unground) grains, beans, coffee and tea, and oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines. Virtually all fruits and vegetables are anti-inflammatory because they contain polyphenols that help to protect you from chronic inflammation, such as the isorhamnetin, resveratrol, curcumin, or vanillic acid found in onions, turmeric, grapes and so forth (Br J Nutr, May 28, 2016;115(10):1699–1710).
- Foods that cause inflammation (“Pro-inflammatory foods”) include sweetened beverages and sugar-added foods, foods made with flour and other refined carbohydrates, fried foods, meat from mammals, processed meats, and milk, butter, margarine, shortening and lard. See Anti-Inflammatory and Pro-Inflammatory Foods
Other Lifestyle Habits That Increase Inflammation
For most people, correcting a faulty diet is the most important lifestyle change to reduce inflammation, but other unhealthful lifestyle habits can also promote chronic inflammation. Scientists have not worked out all of the mechanisms, but it appears that any infection, anything that damages cells in your body, or anything that promotes high blood sugar levels can cause inflammation, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight, not exercising, or vitamin D deficiency. Other sources of chronic inflammation include:
• exposure to X rays and other radiation, including excessive sunlight
• exposure to harmful chemicals such as certain insecticides, herbicides or industrial chemicals
• a chronic infection anywhere in the body
High blood pressure can shorten your life, and while your doctor may recommend drugs, lifestyle changes may be even more important for lowering your high blood pressure and prolonging your life.