Hypertension, also known as High Blood Pressure (HBP), has become pervasive in Indonesia. In 2018, the prevalence of hypertension had reached 34.1%. It concerns us because it is known as a silent killer. Why? Because many people have it without knowing it since it doesn't always give any symptoms. Not only that, but the long term effect of it is what is concerning.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), hypertension can lead to a higher risk of strokes, heart failure, heart attack, vision loss, kidney failure, and even sexual dysfunction for males. (1) In terms of finance, hypertension also has given more burden to the government in Indonesia. In 2016, data from Badan Penyelenggara Jaminan Sosial (BPJS), the government health insurance, has spent 2.8 billion rupiahs for hypertension alone. Then, it increased to 3 billion rupiahs in 2017. (2)
Understanding High Blood Pressure And Its Risk Factors
There is pressure in our blood vessels. It comes from our heart that tries to pump blood to the whole body. However, when the pressure becomes higher than 120/80mmHg, you need to pay attention to it. Well, what causes the pressure to be higher? Some of the risk factors are central obesity, older age, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, and nutrition. (3) (4) If we want to tackle hypertension, we need to make complete lifestyle changes, including exercise, sleeping patterns, and habits,(6) reducing alcohol intake (7), and many more. For now, we will focus on nutrition.
Food alone influence your blood pressure dramatically. Let's start with nutrition. What foods can increase your blood pressure? One of them is red meat. (8) The Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH Diet) has suggested reducing red meat intake because they are rich in saturated fat and sweets, added sugar, and salt. (9) Avoid or stop eating red meat, and processed foods high in sugar and salt are a good start.
On the other hand, increase your plant foods intake. In Brazil's study comparing vegetarians and omnivores, only 7.4% of vegetarians have hypertension (10), while 47.4% of omnivores have hypertension. Same results in China, the average blood pressure of vegetarians is 116/71mmHg (normal), while omnivores are at 126/79mmH (prehypertension). (11)
By becoming more plant-based, your risk of having hypertension can decrease. Why is it? Because many plant foods contain compounds like potassium, nitrate, and L-arginine that can lower your blood pressure.,(12) (13) Plant-based foods with a fair amount of nitrate and L-arginine are beets, celery, watermelon, cantaloupe, soy, and many more. Eating a whole food plant-based diet is one step you can do to protect yourself from getting high blood pressure! And, of course, try to do other lifestyle changes as well.