A vegan diet ‘appears prudent’ for treatment of high blood – study

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A vegan diet is defined by the NHS as one “based on plants (such as vegetables, grains, nuts, and fruits) and foods made from plants. Vegans do not eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products and eggs”.

While this may sound quite limiting in terms of culinary choice, vegan culture and cuisine has shown in recent years that this need not be the case, with many plant based alternatives on offer in shops. Furthermore, multiple studies have shown that a vegan diet can have several health benefits.

One of these could be reducing high blood pressure. A study published in 2017 said investigations into a vegan diet “found that vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians had significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and significantly lower odds of hypertension (0.37 and 0.57, respectively), when compared to non-vegetarians”.

Furthermore, the researchers added: “The vegan group, as compared to lacto-ovo vegetarians, not only was taking fewer antihypertensive medications but, after adjustment for body mass index, also had lower blood pressure readings.”

As to why a plant-based diet can help to reduce blood pressure is not fully known. The authors wrote: “There are a variety of mechanisms proposed by which plant-based nutrition leads to decrease in blood pressure.

“They include improved vasodilation, greater antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory effects, improved insulin sensitivity, decreased blood viscosity, altered baroreceptors, modifications in both the renin-angiotensin, and sympathetic nervous systems, and modification of the gut microbiota.”

As a result, there could be a number of reasons why a vegan diet lowers someone’s blood pressure. However, what is agreed upon is that a diet high in meat is also linked to an increase in high blood pressure.

This is something reflected by Dr Justine Butler of Viva.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, she said: “Meat and dairy foods, as well as highly processed foods, are linked with hypertension (high blood pressure), cholesterol and other risk factors that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

“This is because saturated fat, found in foods such as sausages, burgers, cheese, butter, cream, cakes, biscuits and pies, increases blood cholesterol levels. This in turn can lead to the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, which effectively narrows them.

“So, your heart has to work much harder to pump blood around the body, thus increasing blood pressure.”

Dr Butler also had something to say on the benefits of changing your diet, in particular to one based on vegan principles, and how that can impact the body.

She said: “Changing your diet is an effective way to lower your blood pressure and there is strong scientific evidence showing how a vegan diet can help.

“Many studies, including the EPIC‑Oxford study, found that vegans have lower levels of high blood pressure than meat-eaters, fish-eaters and vegetarians.

“Vegan diets probably work via a combination of factors, including the beneficial effects of fibre, vitamins, antioxidants, healthy fats and minerals.

“The beneficial effects of a vegan diet on blood pressure have been reported in many studies and changing your diet could be an effective way to help prevent and manage your blood pressure.”

While a vegan diet can help reduce blood pressure, there are some areas where it is weaker than others, for example offering vitamin D and calcium.

The NHS writes: “Calcium is needed to maintain healthy bones and teeth. Non-vegans get most of their calcium from dairy foods (milk, cheese and yoghurt), but vegans can get it from other foods.”

However, this does not mean vegans are vulnerable to a vitamin D deficiency.

The NHS recommends vitamin D supplements and fortified spreads, unsweetened soya drinks, and breakfast cereals as a way for vegans to boost their levels.

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