A Vegetarian Diet Can Help Lower Blood Pressure: Study
February 25, 2014

A Vegetarian Diet Can Help Lower Blood Pressure: Review

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Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A new research review from a joint team of Japanese and American doctors has found that switching to a vegetarian diet can be an effective means for lowering blood pressure.

The team also found that people on a vegetarian diet have a lower average blood pressure than those who regularly eat meat.

While a ‘vegetarian’ diet may include dairy products, eggs and/or fish – it is considered to be a plant-based regimen that focuses on vegetables, fruits and grains, as well as legumes for protein.

"If a diet change can prevent blood pressure problems or can reduce blood pressure, it would give hope to many people," said study author Yoko Yokoyama told Shereen Jegtvig of Reuters Health. "However, in order to make healthful food choices, people need guidance from scientific studies.”

"Our analysis found that vegetarian diets lower blood pressure very effectively, and the evidence for this is now quite conclusive,” added Yokoyama, a researcher at the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center in Osaka, Japan and member of Washington, DC-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the review included data on nearly 22,000 individuals and looked at 32 observational studies as well as seven controlled clinical trials all published between 1900 and 2013.

"Observational studies show what happens when people have chosen their own diets and stuck with them, often for years," Yokoyama explained. "Controlled trials are different - a diet is given to people who had not tried it before, and that will show the effect of beginning a new way of eating."

In the observational studies, vegetarians were found to have lower average systolic and diastolic blood pressure, compared with diets that included meat. In the trials, participants who ate a vegetarian diet exhibited a reduction in the average systolic and diastolic pressures compared with eating an omnivorous diet.

"Unlike drugs, there is no cost to a diet adjustment of this type, and all the ‘side effects' of a plant-based diet are desirable: weight loss, lower cholesterol, and better blood sugar control, among others," Yokoyama said.

"But there is more," Yokoyama added. "Plant-based foods are often low in sodium and are rich in potassium, and potassium lowers blood pressure."

The authors of the review called for additional studies to further examine this connection and potential treatment for high blood pressure.

"Further studies are required to clarify which types of vegetarian diets are most strongly associated with lower BP,” they wrote. “Research into the implementation of such diets, either as public health initiatives aiming at prevention of hypertension or in clinical settings, would also be of great potential value."

"I would encourage physicians to prescribe plant-based diets as a matter of routine, and to rely on medications only when diet changes do not do the job," Yokoyama said. "And I would encourage everyone to try a plant-based diet, and especially to introduce plant-based diets to their children - they could prevent many health problems."

Alice Lichtenstein, a cardiovascular nutrition expert at Tufts University in Boston, told Reuters that the review didn't take dietary sodium and lifestyle factors into consideration – two factors that significantly affect blood pressure.