We spend more than $3 billion on anti-hypertensive drugs every year, yet 26 percent of people on medication still have high blood pressure. Despite new drugs and diagnostics, the death rate from hypertension has risen 36 percent in the last decade. Clearly, something is not working. There has got to be a better, more effective method for reducing this insidious and dangerous condition.
There is. It's right in your supermarket and in your refrigerator at home. You can reduce your blood pressure to normal levels (less than 130 over 80), without pills or costly doctor visits. Simply with diet and exercise, most people can normalize their blood pressure in as little as eight weeks.
Most people can significantly reduce their blood pressure by losing just ten percent of their body weight. A combination of walking one to two miles daily, plus adopting the Pan-Asian Modified Mediterranean (PAMM) diet can have a huge impact on hypertension.
For years, physicians followed the American Heart Association's dietary guidelines, touting low-fat and high carbohydrate regimens. It took a long time to figure out that this combination promoted insulin resistance and hypertension. Research kept pointing in the directions of the Mediterranean regions of Italy, Greece and Spain, as well as Asia. These people had a fraction of the heart disease found in northern Europe and the United States.
The typical Mediterranean diet, which includes lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, local fish, home-produced olive oil, fresh garlic and nuts, is key to lower blood pressure. The Asian diet, bountiful in fish, fresh vegetables and fruits, locally-harvested seaweeds and soy products, offers many of the same benefits, plus others. In fact, there is no Japanese word for "hot flash" because most Japanese women follow their traditional diet and pass right through menopause without the symptoms experienced by many Western women.
The PAMM diet includes fruits and vegetables at every meal. Fresh produce is packed with disease-fighting antioxidants, bioflavonoids, and phytonutrients that reduce free-radical induced diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, premature aging and cataracts. Cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower contain anticancer agents. Spinach is rich in the antioxidant lutein as well as vitamins C and E. Tomatoes offer the carotenoid lycopene, which helps to prevent cancer. A single serving of kale has as much calcium as a glass of milk while onions and garlic provide allicin, a cholesterol-lowering nutrient.
All these foods are rich in flavonoids. Black tea, apples and onions are the most studied of these foods because they contain quercetin, a flavonoid which blocks the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Onions contain the most. In a German study of 24 relatively young (average age was 45) subjects with hypertension, five hours after giving them a capsule of onions macerated in olive oil, they experienced a significant reduction in systolic (7 mm Hg) and diastolic (3.1 mm Hg) blood pressures. Additionally, there was a significant reduction in blood plasma thickness, meaning that blood flowed more easily, further reducing blood pressure.
Fish are an important part of the PAMM diet because they are rich in coenzyme Q10 and omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce blood pressure, inflammation and clotting. One fish meal a week can cut your risk of sudden death in half! But not all fish have the same fat content. Cold water fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon are packed with beneficial omega-3 essential fatty acids and Q10. Tuna, halibut, sea trout, crab and shrimp have much lower contents of good fat.
The PAMM diet is also rich in another essential fatty acid: alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in nuts and seeds. Almonds, walnuts, and flaxseed, for example, are rich in essential fatty acids and phytosterols (nutrients that inhibit the body's ability to absorb dietary cholesterol).
Olive oil is also credited with enhancing longevity and reducing heart disease and breast cancer. Low intake of saturated fats also creates less arterial plaque, a major precursor to heart disease and helps support a healthy weight. The PAMM diet is also rich in low-glycemic-index foods which don't create excessive insulin production. Lentils, chickpeas and soybeans provide vegetable protein without the insulin spike that can lead to hyperinsulinemia and heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol. Insulin resistance, which leads to Type-2 diabetes, can only be reversed with diet and exercise.
Stephen Sinatra, M.D. is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and the American College of Nutrition. A practicing cardiologist, he is the author of the new book, "Lower Your Blood Pressure In Eight Weeks" (Ballantine Books; 2003; $13.95). He has written seven other books, and edits a monthly newsletter, The Sinatra Health Report, published by Phillips Health, LLC. For more information, visit www.drsinatra.com.