How likely are you to develop high blood pressure?
By understanding the risk factors that may cause high blood pressure is a way to prevent this serious chronic health condition.
In this article, fourth in a series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) I will talk about:
. Hypertension risk factors
There is scientific evidence that several factors may increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, including:
. Aging - even children may develop hypertension but, the prevalence of hypertension in the childhood is much higher among overweight and obese children.(1)
High blood pressure is a condition that increases dramatically the incidence with aging. And the increased risk of heart disease as we age is related to "common" mechanisms as inflammation, oxidative stress, and endothelial dysfunction, all common in hypertension.(2, 3)
Besides, hypertension among older adults has a number of collateral effects, including risk for dementia, physical disability, and falls/fractures. (4)
. Sex - up to age 64, hypertension is more common to men - after age 65, women are more prone to develop high blood pressure, especially if they are overweight or obese. (5)
. Ethnicity - Hypertension is particularly common among people with African heritage. (6, 7)
. Genetics - family history because hypertension tends to repeat in family members. (8)
. Chronic Kidney Disease - High blood pressure can occur as a result of kidney disease and having hypertension increases the risk of further kidney damage (vicious cycle). (9)
. Insulin Resistance and High Blood Sugar Levels - Excessive consumption of carbohydrates from refined grains and sugars may cause consistently raise in blood sugar and triglyceride levels, common conditions in people with hypertension. (10)
. Diabetes - About 75 percent of adults with diabetes also develop high blood pressure. Hypertension and diabetes are interrelated diseases, which share a significant overlap in risk factors. In addition, individuals with hypertension often present evidence of insulin resistance. (11, 12)
. Physical inactivity or sedentary lifestyle - research on physical activity indicates that the level of physical activity suggested by current health guidelines is not enough to reduce our risk of cardiovascular problems.
Our body was designed to move instead of the epidemic of sedentary lifestyles. For example, in the U.S., individuals are sitting between six and a half (on average) to 13 hours a day behind an office desk, or on a couch watching TV. And we need to understand that there are significant benefits to our physiology, as chronic problems prevention, when we move. (13, 14)
Besides, physical exercise is at the top of the list of factors that can transform our health through significant benefits in our physiology, such as lowering blood pressure, improving fasting glucose levels, improving sleep, decreasing stress, and more.
. Overweight or Obesity - It is estimated that 60-70% of adult hypertension is attributed to increased body fat. Mainly increased fat located in the central region of the body, which is also is associated with insulin resistance and dyslipidemia. (15)
. Obstructive sleep apnea and Sleep duration –is a sleep disorder with potentially serious consequences where upper airflow gets partially or completely blocked while sleep. Then, the breath can become very shallow or may stop breathing briefly, leading to habitual and severe snoring, recurrent arousal from sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. (16, 17)
This condition can also reduce the flow of oxygen to vital organs and cause irregular heart rhythms.
The understanding of obstructive sleep apnea has evolved from an annoying social situation to the recognition that untreated sleep apnea may contribute to the underlying mechanisms and development of hypertension, congestive heart failure, stroke, and more.
. Smoking - Smoking cigarettes and tobacco, even in the case of passive smokers can increase the risk of heart disease and blood pressure through endothelial dysfunction, arterial stiffness, inflammation, lipid modification, etc. (18, 19)
. Dyslipidemia and hyperlipidemia - high or abnormal levels of any or all of the lipids or lipoproteins in the blood. One possible explanation for these relationships is that hypertension and dyslipidemia share common disordered physiological processes, and these changes may impair blood pressure regulation. (20)
. Chronic stress – Stress triggers a surge of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes. A reaction known as “fight or flight” situation or a survival mechanism that allows us to respond faster to life-threatening situations. (21, 22, 23)
However, modern life brought us chronic stress from events such as pressure at work, traffic, relationship problems, chronic health problems, etc. Then, when stressors are always present and we constantly feel under attack, that “fight or flight” reaction stays activated 24/7.
As a consequence, the long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to stress hormones can disrupt almost all our body’s processes and put us at increased risk for many chronic health conditions including hypertension.
- Alcohol consumption – studies recognized the association between too much drinking and hypertension through several possible mechanisms such as imbalance of the central nervous system, increased cortisol levels, constriction of blood vessels and a simultaneous increase in blood flow and heart rate, inflammation, injury of the endothelium, and more. (24, 25)
. An unhealthy diet - processed and refined food happens to be the major sources of not just sodium, but also highly refined carbohydrates, sugar as well as preservatives and chemicals used in the production of these “foods like” products. (26)
Evidence associates sugar in general and fructose in particular, as playing a major role in the development of hypertension and overall cardiovascular risk through a variety of mechanisms. (27, 28, 29)
- Diet rich in refined salt – Sodium is an important nutrient that contributes to the perfect functioning of nerves and muscles and that also is involved in the regulation of fluids in the body. (30)
However, high dietary sodium intake in the diet from processed and refined foods represents a great challenge for the kidneys to excrete causing changes in renal function and disorders in sodium balance, central stimulation of the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, etc. and predisposing salt sensitive individuals to an increase in their blood pressure. (31)
. Diet poor in potassium – potassium consumption through diet helps balance the amount of sodium in our cells, the more potassium we eat, the more sodium we will lose in the urine.
And potassium deficiency consistently induces sodium retention. Also, low potassium intake in the diet is associated with increased blood pressure, increased risk of stroke, and increased risk of chronic kidney disease. (32, 33)
. Diet poor in minerals or poor nutrition - Calcium and magnesium are essential minerals in the regulation of blood pressure.
An increase in the intake of minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium by dietary means, by increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables shows to be efficient in reducing blood pressure. (34, 35)
. The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - the use of over-the-counter medications for the treatment of pain, fever and inflammation, such as Advil, Motrin, Aleve, Voltaren, Feldene, etc. can worsen existing hypertension or trigger the development of high blood pressure. (36, 37)
. The use of a cough, a cold, and decongestant medications - medications used for coughs and colds often contain decongestants that cause elevated blood pressure and heart rate to rise, by constricting all our arteries, not just those of the nose. (38, 39)
. The use of some prescription drugs, such as those used after organ transplants, birth control pills, antidepressants, etc. may cause or aggravate hypertension in some individuals. (40)
. The use of certain herbal supplements such as ginseng, licorice, guarana, ephedra (ma-huang) , St. Johns' Wort, blue cohosh, etc. may cause or aggravate high blood pressure. (41)
. The use of illegal drugs - cocaine, etc., increase blood pressure. (42)
. Hyperparathyroidism - The parathyroid glands regulate calcium levels in our body. If the glands secrete too much parathyroid hormone, the amount of calcium in the blood increases - which triggers an increase in blood pressure in about 22-50 percent of individuals. (43)
. Pregnancy. Pregnancy may aggravate existing hypertension, or it may cause the development of high blood pressure (pregnancy-induced hypertension or pre-eclampsia). (44)
. Thyroid Conditions - When the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism), or produces excess thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism), hypertension may occur.
Hypothyroidism is recognized as a cause of secondary hypertension
and hyperthyroidism increases the risk for various cardiovascular problems, such as atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart rhythm), hypertension, coronary artery disease, stroke, and heart failure. (45, 46, 47)
. Cushing's syndrome or hypercortisolism - occurs when the body is exposed to high levels of cortisol for long periods of time. It can be caused by the use of oral corticosteroid medication or can occur whe body produces excess cortisol. This condition can cause secondary hypertension, bone loss and type 2 diabetes. (48)
. Dysfunction in the gut microbiota - evidence suggests that intestinal microbiota is critical in maintaining physiological homeostasis.
And dysbiosis in the intestinal microbiota is associated with hypertension. As well as the decrease in the diversity in the intestinal microbiota (intestinal flora) is associated with most of the modern chronic diseases, including hypertension. (49, 50)
As you may conclude, there are many other factors and conditions associated with the increased risk of developing hypertension.
On the other hand, if you are at a high risk to develop hypertension, remember that changes in diet and lifestyle are the most powerful tools that can be used in order to prevent and reverse not just hypertension risk but the risk to develop every modern chronic disease.
In Part 4 of this series, I'll start talking about changes in diet and lifestyle in order to naturally prevent and reduce high blood pressure (and keep it always under control).
See you soon and please leave your comment below.