High Blood Pressure

Approximately 30 per cent of the UK population have high blood pressure. Many studies show that vegetarians, and vegans in particular, have lower blood pressure than meat-eaters.

A heart-shaped bowl filled with strawberries and blueberries. High blood pressure is a global health condition.
Image Credit: Unsplash

High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart disease, strokes and kidney failure. As with diabetes it’s often referred to as a ‘ticking time bomb’. In the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study, hypertension was identified as the number one risk factor worldwide for deaths and disability-adjusted life years.

What does research say about high blood pressure?

  • A 2017 paper examined the evidence for a plant-based diet and hypertension management. It concluded ‘that consuming a diet that is mostly or exclusively plant-based appears prudent for the prevention and treatment of hypertension.’ (1)
  • The Journal of Clinical Cardiology in March 2018 published the results of a trial in which patients were put on a plant-based diet that excluded all animal products for 4 weeks. They observed a significant reduction in blood pressure, as well as reduction in cholesterol and other markers of cardiovascular disease. (2)
  • In 2014, a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that ‘Consumption of vegetarian diets is associated with lower BP. Such diets could be a useful nonpharmacologic means for reducing BP. (A metaanalysis uses a statistical approach to combine the results from multiple studies.)
  • In 2012, a cross-sectional study in Public Health Nutrition compared the blood pressure of non-vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, pescatarians, and vegans. The results showed that vegans had the lowest risk for high blood pressure. It also showed that for each step in diet change, reducing animal products eventually to zero (vegan), resulted in a lower risk for high blood pressure.
  • In November 2016, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of nutrition professionals, posted its stance on vegetarian and vegan diets. It concluded that:

‘It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage.

Vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity. Low intake of saturated fat and high intakes of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds (all rich in fiber and phytochemicals) are characteristics of vegetarian and vegan diets that produce lower total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and better serum glucose control. These factors contribute to reduction of chronic disease. Vegans need reliable sources of vitamin B-12, such as fortified foods or supplements.’

Sources:

  1. Alexander S, Ostfeld RJ, Allen K, Williams KA. A plant-based diet and hypertension. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology : JGC. 2017;14(5):327-330. doi:10.11909/j.issn.1671-5411.2017.05.014.
  2. Najjar RS, Moore CE, Montgomery BD. A defined, plant‐based diet utilized in an outpatient cardiovascular clinic effectively treats hypercholesterolemia and hypertension and reduces medications. Clin Cardiol. 2018;41:307–313. https://doi.org/10.1002/clc.22863

PAGE UPDATED JULY 2020

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