Good news for patients struggling with hypertension! New research confirms that the DASH diet (acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) can measurably reduce blood pressure, but also shows that results can be even better when the diet is coupled with exercise and a weight management program. The study was conducted by researchers at Duke University Medical Center, and it was recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
DASH is a diet that is low fat and low sodium, while emphasizing a higher intake of fruits, vegetables and fiber. More specific information on the DASH diet can be found online.
This latest study involved 144 people who were not on medicine to reduce their “higher-than-normal” blood pressure. The average age for participants was 52 years and the average blood pressure was 138/86 mm Hg at the outset. Participants were also overweight, with a body mass index of 25 to 40. They were randomly assigned to three groups: 1) DASH diet alone, 2) DASH combined with exercise and behavioral sessions, 3) usual diet. Both groups of DASH dieters reduced their sodium intake by an average of 30% over the 4-month course of the study, and the exercise and behavioral sessions group lost an average of 19 lbs, or a little over 1 lb per week. Participants in the other two groups lost less than 2 lbs during the study.
Those on the DASH diet alone reduced their blood pressure by 11.2/7.5 mm Hg. The group adding weight loss guidance and supervised exercise sessions to that diet plan experienced even greater results: they lowered their blood pressure by an average of 16.1/9.9 mm Hg– a reduction equivalent to the results one could expect from a high dose of an anti-hypertensive drug. The third group following their own customary diet and exercise habits only reduced blood pressure by 3.4/3.8 mm Hg.
The results reinforce the value of the DASH diet in reducing blood pressure, as compared with a typical American diet, for overweight people with high blood pressure who are not taking medication. Furthermore, there was significant “added value” when the DASH diet was combined with exercise and a weight loss program.
While the research team recommended larger studies and a longer-term follow-up with participants, the evidence so far is nonetheless important. It suggests a low-cost, drug-free solution for the roughly 74 million people in the U.S. with high blood pressure. The DASH diet has now been adopted as part of national recommendations for preventing and treating high blood pressure. For tips on ways to reduce sodium in your diet, check out this FYI Nutrition article on salt.