High Blood Pressure
Risk Factors For High Blood Pressure
Advancing age, gender, family history and genetic predisposition all contribute to the development of high blood pressure. However, they are considered non-modifiable risk factors, meaning that it is not possible to reduce the risk that these factors pose by taking preventive action. Modifiable risk factors, on the other hand, also contribute significantly to the development of high blood pressure, but can be addressed through preventive action. Modifiable risk factors for hypertension include:
- High sodium intake – According to emerging hypotheses, excess sodium appears to alter the balance between excitatory and inhibitory adrenergic receptors in such a way that favors vasoconstriction, leading to increased blood pressure (Gavras 2012). A 2011 study found that individuals with hypertension consume significantly more sodium each day than those without high blood pressure (Shi 2011). Overindulging with salt also increases the risk for stroke, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease (He 2010; Demarin 2010). In order to avoid the hypertensive effects of sodium, intake should be limited to 2.4 grams of sodium, or 6 grams of sodium chloride (table salt) daily (Chobanian 2003).
- Low potassium intake – Adequate potassium intake helps balance the hypertensive effects of sodium. Diets containing excess sodium require ample amounts of potassium-rich foods to help mitigate the hypertensive consequences of modern sodium overindulgence. The suggested potassium intake for adults is 4.7 grams daily, but most Americans consume far less.
- Obesity and Insulin Resistance – Body weight gain accounts for as much as 75% of the risk for high blood pressure (Marion 2004). Nearly 70% of Americans are overweight. As body fat mass increases, blood volume increases as well, which contributes to increased blood pressure. Insulin resistance, which often occurs in tandem with obesity, contributes to vascular resistance and increased blood pressure (Reisin 2009).
- Stress – Stressful situations cause the release of hypertensive (blood pressure raising) hormones, such as epinephrine. As chronic stress causes the continual release of hypertensive hormones, sustained elevations in blood pressure become dangerous. A study following government employees who participated in disaster relief efforts in the Niigata Prefecture of Japan after the 2004 earthquake found that those with the most stressful workloads were much more likely to develop high blood pressure. Individuals under the greatest stress were also more likely to gain weight and have high cholesterol levels (Azuma 2010).
- Sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and too much alcohol can all increase the risk for high blood pressure. Light alcohol consumption does confer benefits for cardiovascular health, while heavy alcohol ingestion increases the risk of hypertension. Therefore, intake should be limited to two drinks daily for men and one drink daily for women (Chobanian 2003).
Although conventional physicians usually consider the aforementioned risk factors, mainstream medicine has overlooked two important contributors that may play a significant role in blood pressure regulation – vitamin K and vitamin D.
- Low Vitamin D intake – Insufficient intakes of this hormone-like vitamin are implicated in the pathology of high blood pressure along with numerous other diseases. Studies suggest that vitamin D might target many of the factors that contribute to hypertension including suppressing renin (a hypertensive enzyme) and protecting kidney function (Pillz 2010). In a review of 10 randomized controlled trials, vitamin D supplementation was shown to mildly reduce blood pressure. Moreover, individuals with higher blood levels of vitamin D were at less risk of developing cardiovascular disease (Pillz 2010). Life Extension suggests that all individuals maintain a blood 25-hydroxyvitamin D level of 50 – 80 ng/ml.
- Low Vitamin K intake – Vitamin K is required to maintain soft and pliable arterial walls. Inadequate vitamin K intake can result in an accumulation of calcium in the arterial wall, leading to hardening of the arteries and increased peripheral resistance (Schurgers 2007). Ensuring adequate vitamin K intake allows for proper allocation of calcium into the bones to maintain skeletal integrity and away from the arterial wall, helping prevent the arterial “stiffness” that robs so many aging individuals of proper circulation.