People with excess weight are at an increased risk of developing various health problems.
You’ve probably heard or read stories about obesity and hypertension more than once. That said, it’s impossible not to wonder about the link between the two.
Does excess weight really increase the risk of high blood pressure? What is the relationship between the two problems? How to manage hypertension?
Get answers to these questions below and learn more about this important subject.
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What is hypertension?
Blood pressure is defined as the pressure of blood pushing against arteries walls. The arteries’ primary function is to carry the blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Hypertension, high blood pressure, occurs when the force of blood against the artery walls is high enough to cause cardiovascular disease or other problems eventually.
A person’s blood pressure fluctuates during the day based on their activities. You have hypertension when blood pressure values are consistently high.
According to the American Heart Association, normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. Elevated blood pressure values are 120-129/80, whereas hypertension stage 1 occurs when blood pressure is 130-139/80-89. Hypertension stage 2 happens when you measure the values in the range 140/90 or higher. A hypertensive crisis occurs when your blood pressure is 180/120 or higher. The top number marks systolic blood pressure, and the lower number refers to diastolic blood pressure.
About 1.13 billion people worldwide have high blood pressure, according to the WHO. Two-thirds of those people live in low- and middle-income countries. Hypertension is a major problem in the United States too. The CDC reports nearly half of adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure. More precisely, this problem affects 108 million (45%) people in the country. However, only one in four people (24%) with hypertension has this condition under control.
The most troubling thing about high blood pressure is that people can have it for years without realizing it. For that reason, regular checkups at the doctor’s are important. When left unmanaged, hypertension can lead to or worsen several complications that jeopardize your wellbeing. These include:
- Heart attack or stroke
- Heart failure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Narrowed, thickened, or torn blood vessels in the eyes
- Problems with memory and understanding
- Weakened or narrowed blood vessels in the kidneys
High blood pressure is both preventable and manageable. If you have it, you can work with the doctor to manage it properly. Management of hypertension usually includes lifestyle adjustments at first.
Risk factors for hypertension
The reality is that hypertension could affect all of us, but some factors increase the risk of developing this health problem. Some of the most common high blood pressure risk factors include:
- Age – the risk of hypertension increases with age
- Alcohol – may narrow blood vessels and thereby increase blood pressure.
- Diabetes – causes sugars to accumulate in the blood.
- Elevated blood pressure – this blood pressure is slightly higher than normal but not high enough to count as hypertension.
- Genetics and family history – you are more likely to develop hypertension if your family members have this problem.
- Overweight/obesity – Excessive weight makes the heart work harder to pump blood and oxygen around the body. Eventually, it adds stress to the heart and blood vessels. Excess weight is a major contributor to heart disease. This is particularly the case with morbid obesity.
- Race – persons of African American descent are more likely to develop hypertension than other races, and they tend to develop it earlier in life.
- Sedentary lifestyle – impairs the health of your heart and blood vessels.
- Smoking – constricts blood vessels.
- Stress – high-stress levels can increase blood pressure temporarily
- Unhealthy diet – especially when it is high in sodium and low in potassium
The link between obesity and hypertension
Studies show obesity is an independent risk factor for the development and progression of high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. Excess weight and associated metabolic abnormalities could induce or accelerate renal complications in essential hypertension. The term essential hypertension, or primary hypertension, refers to high blood pressure cases without a known secondary cause.
It is useful to mention obesity-related metabolic abnormalities and impairment in cardiovascular function could be present even at a young age and asymptomatically progress for decades before clinical manifestations appear. For example, early abnormalities in obese children and young persons who are obese could facilitate the future development of hypertension and atherosclerosis regardless of other risk factors.
Basically, excess weight increases the risk of high blood pressure even if other risk factors are not present. The problem may occur long before you feel the consequences. Still, the relationship between obesity and high blood pressure is more complex than we thought.
Several mechanisms play a role in the development of obesity-induced hypertension, such as:
- Increased insulin resistance
- Leptin resistance, a state where leptin is high and the body is overweight, but the brain can’t “see” it; a person is constantly hungry and eats more than the body needs.
- Increased procoagulatory activity
- Endothelial dysfunction
- Increased sympathetic activity
- Activation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, a hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid and electrolyte balance
- Increased sodium reabsorption by the kidneys
- Subclinical inflammation
- Development of obstructive sleep apnea
We can conclude here that obesity contributes to the onset of hypertension through multiple mechanisms of action. Each of these factors becomes more severe the more weight you put on. Eventually, this may lead to elevated and high blood pressure.
The role of diet
The diet has a vital role in the relationship between obesity and high blood pressure. We need to keep in mind that excessive weight mainly occurs due to the consumption of excess calories compared to those used by the body. In other words, we gain weight when the intake of calories is higher than the number of calories our body burns during the day.
That said, the amount of fat in the diet may have a bigger influence on weight gain than the number of calories. The body stores the greatest portion of fat calories in fat cells immediately. These cells expand and multiply rapidly. As a result, they add to the body’s weight and girth.
Your adipose tissue keeps getting bigger, and waist circumference increases too. The central obesity is a major problem and may harm your health in many ways. Besides high blood pressure, abdominal obesity can also lead to diabetes mellitus (type 2 diabetes), gout, and other problems.
The increased consumption of unhealthy fat leads to excessive and abnormally high blood cholesterol levels, i.e., hypercholesterolemia. Sometimes, fat from blood circulation can immediately affect certain organs such as kidneys and liver. Atherosclerosis is also a consequence of the accumulation of fat.
As fat builds up, it contributes to the formation of plaque in blood vessels. The space within blood vessels narrows significantly, so the force of blood rushing through them increases. This eventually leads to obesity hypertension.
Additionally, a high intake of carbohydrates and alcohol increases the levels of triglycerides, which also play a role in atherosclerosis development.
The dangers of excess weight
Excess weight is a condition that affects body composition and causes damage to organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, colon, skin, brain, and blood vessels. Renal injury is most directly dependent on body weight. Obesity can cause structural changes inside the kidney. Together with elevated abdominal pressure, these changes could be an additional cause of renal sodium reabsorption disorder. This can lead to too much sodium in the blood. And, as you’re already aware, sodium increases blood pressure.
We need to bear in mind excess weight, and an unhealthy diet can narrow tiny blood vessels in the kidneys. As a result, blood flow is limited, and kidneys find it challenging to filter the blood and eliminate fluids and waste. Inability to remove excess fluid and waste properly puts more pressure on the heart, which needs to work even harder. The vicious cycle continues, and hypertension becomes a long-term problem.
When we’re talking about this subject, it’s essential to address one important thing – lean men and women can have high blood pressure. The goal here is not to suggest that only overweight or obese patients can have hypertension. This problem can affect men and women of healthy weight, as well. However, some structural differences are present in obesity-related hypertension that others do not have.
More precisely, obese hypertensive patients have a greater risk of left ventricular hypertrophy, a powerful risk for cardiovascular death. The increased intravascular volume linked with obesity leads to amplified cardiac output. For that reason, obese subjects with hypertension exhibit left ventricular hypertrophy in addition to concentric hypertrophy. This isn’t always the case in persons with normal weight.
Left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) is a term that refers to a thickening of the heart’s left pumping chamber. When the chamber thickens, it becomes more difficult for the heart to pump blood effectively. On the other hand, concentric left ventricular hypertrophy is an abnormal increase in left ventricular myocardial mass resulting from increased workload on the heart.
How to reduce the risk of obesity
As sedentary lifestyle and consumption of unhealthy diet prevail, overweight and obesity have become common problems across the globe. The problem is particularly evident in the United States, where the prevalence of adult obesity is over 42.4%. Almost half of all adults in the U.S. are overweight and obese, meaning excess weight is a public health concern. Let’s not forget that childhood obesity is also a major problem.
Just like hypertension, obesity is preventable and manageable. Below, you can see some useful tips to reduce the risk of obesity and improve your health.
Avoid “bad” fat and opt for “good” fat
Fat is a macronutrient we need to consume alongside protein and carbohydrates. But not all fat is equal. Some types of fat are good for you, whereas others are bad. To prevent obesity or slim down, you should opt for healthy fats such as polyunsaturated fats. You can also enrich your diet with plenty of olive oil and Omega-3 fatty acids. Healthy dietary fats can lower cholesterol levels. That way, you will be able to avoid increasing body fat percentage. Healthy fats also lower cardiovascular risk.
Eat more fruits and vegetables.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but we tend to underestimate the power of fruits and vegetables. They are abundant in vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, fiber, and other compounds our body needs to function properly. Fruits and vegetables can also suppress your appetite and also boost energy levels. Plus, they are lower in calories than processed foods. Adults should strive to consume five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
Limit consumption of sugar and processed foods
Consumption of sugar and processed or ultra-processed foods increases the risk of obesity significantly. While you may find these foods delicious, they have no nutritional value and deliver empty calories. In other words, your body can’t benefit from sugar and processed foods, but it can gain weight due to the significant amount of calories they deliver. If you simply can’t avoid consuming these foods, you may want to try limiting their intake.
Eat more fiber
If you tend to overeat or eat frequently, even if you had a meal an hour or so ago, you are at a higher risk of gaining weight. One way to prevent obesity is to consume more fiber. You see, fiber can suppress appetite and help you feel full for longer. This limits the number of calories you consume during the day.
Regular exercise should go hand in hand with a well-balanced diet. These two practices complement one another. Physical activity supports weight maintenance, but it can also help you slim down if you are overweight. Plus, exercise is good for your blood flow, and it can help you burn more calories than you consume. Your workout routine should have both cardio and weight-training regimens on alternating days. Don’tDon’t forget to take a rest day.
The obesity prevention journey doesn’t have to include you only. You can encourage other family members and friends to join you. Remember, this is all about protecting your health and reducing the relative risk of obesity-associated diseases. You can go to the gym together, jog, exercise at home together, cook healthy meals together options are truly endless.
Unmanaged stress can wreak havoc on your health and make you more prone to weight gain. Evidence shows stress can trigger a brain response that alters brain patterns and leads to cravings for unhealthy foods. And you already know that consumption of unhealthy foods can lead to weight gain.
Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep depletes energy levels and lowers motivation. As a result, you may be reluctant to exercise. Additionally, insufficient sleep increases stress. The effects of stress were elaborated above.
NOTE: The doctor may recommend obese individuals bariatric surgery such as gastric bypass to jumpstart your weight loss and help you live a healthier life.
How to naturally reduce blood pressure
Before we get into natural strategies for the reduction of blood pressure, it’s crucial to emphasize regular visits to the doctor. To patients who are diagnosed with hypertension, the doctor may recommend adequate treatment methods or medications such as thiazide diuretics. This depends on the severity of your condition and other factors. You should adhere to doctor-recommended treatment measures but also strive to modify your lifestyle a little bit. A proactive approach to managing this problem is particularly important because high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart problems regardless of your body mass index (BMI).
Below, you can see some natural ways to manage hypertension:
- Exercise regularly and increase physical activity levels – besides regular workouts, you should strive to move more. Try to walk more, use stairs instead of elevators and escalators whenever you can, park down the street so you can walk to work, etc.
- Lose weight – weight loss and maintenance are crucial for lowering blood pressure. You will also notice many hypertension management measures are similar to those for weight loss and its maintenance.
- Lower intake of sugar and refined carbs – they are laden in calories, contribute to weight gain, contribute to insulin resistance, and affect your cardiovascular health.
- Reduce consumption of sodium and eat more potassium – sodium increases blood pressure while potassium lowers it.
- Quit smoking – Smoking can constrict blood vessels and increase blood pressure.
- Manage stress – hormones produced in times of stress can increase blood pressure. Also, stress contributes to weight gain, which can amplify the risk of hypertension. One way to manage stress is to meditate or practice yoga.
- Try medicinal herbs – some herbs are known for their potential to reduce blood pressure. These include cat’s claw, black bean, celery juice, Chinese hawthorn, ginger root, sesame oil, etc. Consult your doctor before you try these.
- Get enough sleep – lack of sleep increases stress.
- Take blood pressure-lowering dietary supplements – these include Omega-3 fatty acids, whey protein, magnesium, coenzyme Q10, and citrulline. Consult your doctor before you try these, as well.
- Limit or avoid alcohol – as seen above in this post, alcohol is a major contributor to hypertension.
If you are a heart failure patient, make sure to consult the doctor about natural ways to tackle this problem without damaging your heart.
Obesity is an independent risk for hypertension. The good thing is that both problems are preventable and manageable. Practice a healthy lifestyle and take care of your weight and health.