True or false: Blood pressure increases with age. If you eat a typical western diet, this answer would most often be true. However, a recent study suggests that might not be the case for everyone.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, affects more than 30% of Americans. Often called the silent killer, untreated high blood pressure is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. High blood pressure results from too much force of the blood against artery walls. The exact causes of high blood pressure are not known, but it is thought to be related to dietary patterns.
The dietary patterns of developed countries in the West, known as the Western diet, are a dangerous combination of fast food, saturated fats, refined sugars, and processed meat. With this diet, it seems inevitable that as we age, we face more health problems—including high blood pressure.
While we might not be surprised to hear that high blood pressure increases as we age, startling statistics show that up to 10% of children between the ages of8 to 17 are either on the verge of high blood pressure or actually already have high blood pressure.
Does blood pressure increase with age?
To determine if blood pressure always increases with age, researchers studied two tribes in the Amazonian rainforest to determine the effects of a Western diet on blood pressure. The tribes, the Yekwana and the Yanomami, are located in very remote and hard-to-access areas. The Yekwana tribe eats a diet that has been exposed to some western influences and contains processed foods. In contrast, the Yanomami tribe has had no exposure to the Western diet, and primarily eats food they have hunted, gathered, or grown. The study was a combined research effort by researchers in Brazil and Venezuela, and the results were published in JAMA Cardiology.
The blood pressure of 72 Yanomami men and women and 83 Yekwana men and women (average age of 22) was tracked over a five-month period. The average blood pressure of the Yanomami was 95 systolic over 63 diastolic. This number included young children and adults through age 60 and showed that in the Yanomami tribe there is virtually no increase in blood pressure throughout their lives. This indicated that a diet with no exposure to the Western diet had no increase in blood pressure.
In the very young, the Yekwana blood pressures were similar to those of the Yanomami. However, as early as age 10, their blood pressure began to rise and was almost 16 points higher than the Yanomami by age 50. This indicated that a diet influenced by the Western diet is associated with increased blood pressure.
The study results are limited by the people tested, because there are a limited number of participants due to their remote location.
Incorporate more fruits, vegetables, and fiber
In a press release, Dr. Noel Mueller, PhD, MPH, author of the study, said, “The idea that rising blood pressure is a result of aging is a widely held belief in cardiology, but our findings add to evidence that rising blood pressure may be an avoidable consequence of Western diet and lifestyle rather than aging itself.”
This study confirms what you have probably known all along. You can lower your risk for high blood pressure if you add more fruits, vegetables and fiber to your Western diet. If you use whole grains, low-fat or fat-free milk, lean protein meats, more seafood, and drink plenty of water, you can improve your health and well-being and keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.
Written by Rebecca K. Blankenship, B.Sc.
Reference: Mueller N, Noya-Alarcon O, Contreras M, Appel L, Dominguez-Bello M. Association of Age With Blood Pressure Across the Lifespan in Isolated Yanomami and Yekwana Villages. JAMA Cardiol. 2018. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2018.3676