People who eat a vegetarian diet tend to
have lower blood pressure than non-vegetarians, according to a new review of
Researchers said for some people, eating a
vegetarian diet could be a good way to treat high blood pressure without medication.
diets exclude meat, but may include dairy products, eggs and fish in some
cases. They emphasise foods of plant origin, particularly vegetables, grains,
legumes and fruits.
blood pressure contributes to a person's risk of heart disease, stroke,
kidney disorders and other health problems. For many people, the only treatment
has been medication, but that means costs and possible side effects, lead
author Yoko Yokoyama told Reuters Health in an e-mail.
Giving hope to many people
"If a diet change can prevent blood
pressure problems or can reduce blood pressure, it would give hope to many
people," Yokoyama said. She is a researcher at the National Cerebral and
Cardiovascular Centre in Osaka, Japan.
Read: Tips to reduce your blood pressure
"However, in order to make healthful
food choices, people need guidance from scientific studies," she said.
"Our analysis found that vegetarian diets lower blood pressure very
effectively, and the evidence for this is now quite conclusive.
"According to the American Heart
Association, blood pressure readings under 120 mm Hg systolic and 80 mm Hg
diastolic (120/80) are considered normal.
High blood pressure starts at 140/90.The
new review, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, combined results from 39
previous studies, including 32 observational studies and seven controlled
"Observational studies show what
happens when people have chosen their own diets and stuck with them, often for
years," Yokoyama said.
"Controlled trials are different – a
diet is given to people who had not tried it before, and that will show the
effect of beginning a new way of eating."Together the studies included
close to 22 000 people.
The researchers found that in the
observational studies, people who had been eating a vegetarian diet had an
average systolic blood pressure that was about 7 mm Hg lower than among
meat-eaters and a diastolic blood pressure that was 5 mm Hg lower.
No cost involved
Participants in the clinical trials who
were given vegetarian diets to follow had, on average, a systolic blood
pressure that was 5 mm Hg lower and a diastolic blood pressure that was 2 mm Hg
lower than participants in control groups who were not on vegetarian diets.
"Unlike drugs, there is no cost to a
diet adjustment of this type, and all the 'side effects' of a plant-based diet
are desirable: weight loss, lower cholesterol, and better blood sugar control,
among others," Yokoyama said.
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Low fat and high fibre
She said a plant-based diet is typically
low in fat and high in fibre, so it helps people lose weight, which, in turn,
causes a healthy drop in blood pressure."But there is more," Yokoyama
"Plant-based foods are often low in
sodium and are rich in potassium, and potassium lowers blood pressure." The
same foods are also very low in saturated fat – the type of fat in meat and
cheese – and eating less saturated fat means blood can circulate more easily,
"I would encourage physicians to
prescribe plant-based diets as a matter of routine, and to rely on medications
only when diet changes do not do the job," Yokoyama said. "And I
would encourage everyone to try a plant-based diet, and especially to introduce
plant-based diets to their children – they could prevent many health problems.
Read: Whey supplements lower blood pressure
Yokoyama said doctors who would like to
prescribe diet changes need tools. "We have developed a free program, called
the 21-Day Kick-start programme, which introduces a plant-based diet through
daily emails that provide menus, recipes, cooking videos, and a discussion
board for questions.
It is available at no charge in English,
Spanish, Mandarin, and Japanese, along with a special English-language programme
for India," Yokoyama said. The programme is affiliated with the Physicians
Committee for Responsible Medicine, an organisation that promotes plant-based
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