Your heart is an amazing organ that never takes a break. When blood pressure increases, however, it forces your heart into overdrive, which can have lasting and devastating consequences. Read on to learn about the role sugar plays in hypertension and what you can do to improve your heart health.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension, or clinically high blood pressure, impacts nearly half of adults in the US. Only 1 in 4 of these impacted adults have their hypertension under control. Stages of blood pressure and hypertension classifications are as follows (note that these cutoffs have changed in recent years, so they might look different than what you’re used to):
- Normal blood pressure: under 120/80 mm Hg (ex: 114/76)
- Elevated blood pressure: between 120-129/80 mm Hg (ex: 128/78)
- Stage 1 hypertension: between 130-139/80-89 mm Hg (ex: 134/86)
- Stage 2 hypertension: over 140/90 mm Hg (ex: 154/98)
- Hypertensive crisis: over 180/120 mm Hg (ex: 190/126)
Blood pressure is simply the pressure of your blood pushing against your artery walls each time your heart contracts. When this pressure is too high, it can damage blood vessels and other organs.
While many people with high blood pressure show no symptoms and may not even be aware of a problem, uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause many problems over time. It can lead to stroke, heart attack or heart failure, kidney failure, blindness, peripheral artery disease, aneurysm, dementia, and sexual dysfunction. High blood pressure is the most significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the developed world. Hypertension is also a contributing factor in metabolic syndrome.
How Does Sugar Impact Blood Pressure?
The links between sugar and obesity have been covered extensively. The consumption of sugary foods and drinks is a direct contributor to weight gain, and weight gain contributes to elevated blood pressure. Carrying around extra weight increases vascular resistance and your heart has to pump even harder to deliver blood throughout the body. In this way, sugar indirectly contributes to hypertension.
However, more recent research shows that sugar also has a more direct impact on blood pressure. Studies show that reduced sugar intake lowers blood pressure and that sugar consumption elevates blood pressure. So, not only does sugar consumption contribute to obesity and elevate blood pressure over time, it also independently worsens blood pressure in the short-term as soon as you consume it.
Which Is Worse: Sugar or Salt?
Sodium has long been associated with hypertension, and any diet designed to help lower blood pressure encourages the limitation of salt consumption. Considering the recent research on the impact of sugar on blood sugar, however, which is worse – sugar or salt?
One important study suggests that the health problems caused by sugar (including hypertension) may be even more impactful than those caused by high sodium consumption. At the end of the day, limiting both sugar and salt consumption is an effective way to lower blood pressure and improve overall health.
Diabetes and Blood Pressure
Type 2 diabetes and hypertension have many risk factors and underlying causes in common. As one worsens, it generally contributes to the worsening of the other. Common contributors for both include obesity, inflammation, stress, and insulin resistance/excessive sugar consumption.
There are other contributing factors to hypertension, including age, family history, tobacco use, and inactivity. While some of the risk factors are out of your control, others can be modified by making healthy lifestyle changes such as:
- Losing extra weight
- Moving your body regularly (aim for 30 minutes a day)
- Eating a healthy diet low in added sugar and sodium
- Cutting back on caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol
- Taking up meditation or other forms of stress management
The first step you can take in the right direction, however, is to get your blood pressure checked ASAP. Knowing your numbers is empowering, and you can begin to take charge of your own health and wellbeing.