On Wednesday, May 14, 2003 new guidelines were released that suggested blood pressure levels considered “normal” for 45 million people in the US, were actually dangerous all along. One in five adults falls in the new category of “prehypertension,” and is considered at higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. Under the new guidelines blood pressures between 120 to 139 systolic (top number) and 80 to 89 diastolic (bottom number) are now considered abnormal. Normal is below 120/80 mm Hg. The panel of experts from the National High Blood Pressure Education Program issuing these guidelines recommends weight loss, more exercise, less salt and less alcohol. The report does not recommend drug therapy. But, in actuality this will translate into 45 million people being threatened with a lifetime of blood pressure medication.
Almost 20 years ago, the Final report of the Working Group on Risk and High Blood Pressure came to the same conclusion for increased health risks for blood pressures of the same levels.1 For example, the risk of having a heart attack was found to be doubled for someone with a diastolic pressure of 80 to 89 mmHg, compared to a pressure below 80 mmHg.
People (even most doctors) have an incorrect concept of the significance of elevated blood pressure. They think the pressure is damaging the arteries. In truth the elevated pressure is the result of sick arteries and an unhealthy blood system. When the blood vessel walls (arteries) become filled with cholesterol and fat, and then the atherosclerosis that follows, they become narrower and stiffer – as a result the pressure goes up. Foods that we eat (saturated fat and cholesterol) cause the arteries’ muscles to spasm and narrow raising the pressure. Vegetable, fish, and animal fats cause the blood cells to stick together and sludge, slowing the flow of blood – this back-up also raises the pressure. It is natural, normal, and desirable for the pressure to go up. This rise is an attempt to overcome all this resistance to flow, and deliver nutrients to the tissues. (You can learn the details on all of this in The McDougall Program for a Healthy Heart ebook.)
Thus, what the elevated blood pressure really means is the whole blood vessel system is in trouble and ready to close down with a heart attack or stroke.
The approach of the drug industry, and their workers, the doctors, is to attack the elevated blood pressure with medications. The pressure goes down, but they have done nothing about the sick blood vessel system. As a result, this pharmaceutical approach does nothing to reduce the risk of heart attacks and very little to reduce the risk of strokes.
The ultimate beneficiary of these new recommendations from the National High Blood Pressure Education Program will be the pharmaceutical industry and the prescribing doctors – not the patients; unless they know the truth, and take proper action.
Without a doubt this elevation of blood pressure above 120/80 is a serious warning that there is “trouble down below.” Your response should not be to hide the warning sign – the elevated blood pressure – with medication. Your response should be to fix the trouble.
Now is the time to change your diet, lose weight, and exercise, as recommended. But do it seriously with a starch-based diet, with additional fruits and vegetables. Although not the most important recommendation, salt intake should be kept low (We recommend sprinkling it on the surface of the foods rather than cooking with it, for more taste and less sodium.) Exercise daily. When you do both of the diet and exercise suggestions correctly, then you will effortlessly attain, and then maintain that ideal weight – and avoid blood pressure medication and most future health problems.
John McDougall, MD
1) An epidemiological approach to describing risk associated with blood pressure levels. Final report of the Working Group on Risk and High Blood Pressure. Hypertension. 1985 Jul-Aug;7(4):641-51.