If you’ve seen your doctor in the past year, you may have found that you were suddenly diagnosed with hypertension even though your blood pressure hasn’t changed.
That’s because in 2017, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released guidelines to lower the threshold for high blood pressure from 140/90 mm Hg to 130/80 mm Hg.
Under these guidelines, 31.3 million more people have been recommended to take prescription medications to control their blood pressure — a clear windfall for the drug companies.
So, why were the numbers changed and does starting blood pressure medication really improve your health and decrease your risk of serious cardiac events?
The data used to create the new guidelines came from a Sprint study. The research on more than 9,300 patients — who were at least 50 years old with a systolic blood pressure (the top number) between 130 and 180 — found that acute cardiovascular events and death were less common among patients that received intensive therapy… mainly medication.
What was not well publicized about the study was that the intensive therapy group (the ones on medication) also had more adverse events from hypotension (low blood pressure) and loss of consciousness due to a fall in blood pressure to acute kidney injury.
In addition to this problem with the study results, it’s important to mention that on top of requirements for participants in the study, those chosen also had to suffer another subclinical cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, have a 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease of 15 percent or more or be older than 75 — all factors which could easily skew the results.
So, you might say the odds were stacked with health poor enough that any good result would help the study look like a success.
But some folks over in Europe did their own study and found that those guideline changes didn’t deliver the expected benefits.
They found that the cardiovascular disease mortality risk was not significantly higher than among patients with “normal” blood pressure.
In other words, lowering the guidelines doesn’t make a difference in respect to cardiovascular health. However, they brought about a potential new danger for some of the patients.
It turns out that depression was significantly more common in the group taking medication to treat their serious hypertension with half the patients reporting the mental health problem versus just one-third of those not receiving treatment.
“We believe that this should be seen as a labeling effect,” said Karl-Heinz Ladwig, a researcher at the Clinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the TUM University Clinic. “When people are officially labeled as ‘sick,’ that has an impact on their mental health.”
This constitutes a serious risk since a previous study by the same team showed that — in terms of mortality risk from cardiovascular disease — depression is comparable to high cholesterol levels or obesity.
So, if you fall into the new category of Stage 1 Hypertension, talk to your doctor about the risks of medication and the benefits of using lifestyle and dietary changes to improve your blood pressure before you start any prescription.
In addition to diet and exercise, supplements that can help promote healthy arteries, blood flow and blood pressure include:
• Vitamin K2 — Vitamin K2 has been proven to reduce levels of calcium deposits in arteries and lower the risk of serious heart problems. It works to keep your arteries clear, elastic and pliable.
• Grape seed extract — Grape seed extract contains heart-healthy polyphenols that activate nitric oxide in the lining of your blood vessels to relax arteries and promote healthy blood flow.
• Pterostilbene —The powerful antioxidant pterostilbene helps block the creation of Angiotensin II — an enzyme that stiffens the walls of your blood vessels and triggers a hormone that increases the amounts of sodium and water retained by your body.
• Green tea extract — Phytochemicals in green tea called catechins have been proven to reduce oxidative stress and soothe inflammation to support your cardiovascular health.