High Blood Pressure

The scientific term is hypertension and the condition is directly linked to heart disease and clogged arteries – the higher the pressure the greater the risk. Many people don’t even realise they have high blood pressure – hence the term ‘silent killer’. In the 2003 Health Survey for England almost one in three men and women had hypertension (142).

Blood pressure is measured both when the heart is actually beating (systolic) and between beats – the resting rate (diastolic) – and hence is always quoted as two figures, eg 120:80.

Blood pressure rises as we get older but some people defy this seemingly inevitable development. Good physical activity, maintaining a stable weight, low levels of animal fat in the diet and limiting the amount of salt eaten all have an effect.

But even allowing for all that, the blood pressure of vegetarians does not increase in the same way as meat eaters – in fact it goes up little with age. It’s not surprising, then, that a vegetarian diet can be used to treat high blood pressure (31).

There is an inescapable link with meat and a Californian study as long ago as 1926 showed this. The blood pressure of vegetarians was raised by 10 per cent simply by feeding them meat – and it happened in only two weeks (32).

Other studies have produced similar results and a whole range of studies have shown vegetarians to have considerably lower blood pressure than meat eaters (33, 34, 35). It is also the finding of the WHO and ADA.  Perhaps just as importantly, many studies have found that changing to a vegetarian diet can significantly lower blood pressure (36, 37, 38, 39). A Swedish study found that blood pressure could not only be lowered with low-fat vegetarian diets but the distressing symptoms associated with it could be reduced or totally eliminated. At the end of the trial period it was found that most patients had been able to give up their medication, 50 per cent felt ‘much better’, 15 per cent felt ‘better’ and 30 per cent felt ‘completely recovered’ (40).

The lower risk to vegetarians is considerable and can be anywhere between 33-50 per cent and all the evidence shows that it is the totality of the vegetarian diet that works not any specific ingredient.

Salt also plays an important part in causing high blood pressure. In the West we consume about 10 grams of salt a day – one gram naturally present in plant foods, one gram added when cooking or eating and eight grams in processed foods.