Eat less meat to reduce your blood pressure

vegetablesA systolic/diastolic blood pressure >140/90 mmHg constitutes a diagnosis of hypertension. Across the blood pressure range from 115/75 to 185/115 mm Hg, every incremental increase of 20 mm Hg in systolic or 10 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure is associated with more than twice the risk of cardiovascular disease. Conversely, very modest reductions in blood pressure can lead to significant reductions in the risk of cardiovascular events. For example, as highlighted in the HOPE study, a 3 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure is associated with a 22% reduction in cardiovascular disease-related death, heart attack, or stroke over 4.5 years.

So how does one go about achieving a reduction in blood pressure?

Most experts suggest blood-pressure reducing medication along with lifestyle modification as the best method. Indeed, numerous studies suggest that modifiable lifestyle  factors, including a diet high in salt, excess body weight, limited physical activity, and alcohol intake, all play a role in increasing the risk of developing hypertension. For some time, it has also been suggested that switching to a vegetarian diet can help reduce the stress on your arteries.

In a recent meta-analysis (study of many studies) published in JAMA Internal Medicine, Yokoyama and colleagues looked at 7 controlled trials and 32 observational studies to examine the influence of a vegetarian versus an omnivorous diet on blood pressure. Their analysis included a whopping total of 21915 subjects!

Across the controlled studies, where subjects were part of an intervention that included a change to a vegan or vegetarian diet, systolic and diastolic blood pressure was found to reduce by −4.8 mm Hg and −2.2 mm Hg, respectively, by comparison to the consumption of omnivorous diets.

Within the observational studies, where subjects were simply evaluated for diet composition as well as blood pressure, those who followed any form of a vegan or vegetarian diet (lacto, lacto-ovo, pesco, and/or semivegetarian) had on average a 6.9 mmHg lower mean systolic and 4.7 mmHg lower diastolic blood pressure, by comparison to those who consumed omnivorous diets.

The blood pressure reduction reported in response to a vegetarian diet are generally similar to those observed with other lifestyle modifications, such as a low-salt diet or a weight loss of 5 kg, and are approximately half the magnitude of those observed with blood-pressure lowering drugs. Keep in mind, however, that even a 3 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure is associated with a 22% reduction in cardiovascular disease-related death, heart attack, or stroke over 4.5 years. So while small in number, these changes in blood pressure associated with eating no or less animal products are clearly meaningful when it comes to your overall health.

Being raised by Eastern European parents, I find it hard to not include meat as part of most meals, so I’m not sure a full-on vegetarian diet is going to happen. However, I have made a conscious effort to reduce the amount of meat that I consume, and have really enjoyed the Meatless Monday approach. All small but maintainable steps in the right direction.


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6 Responses to Eat less meat to reduce your blood pressure

  1. aek says:

    This is such interesting research – and findings. However, I have some questions that I’ not sure that the studies addressed – would you care to comment?

    1. How much highly processed food products were consumed by the subjects?

    2. What were the amounts and types of meat that were consumed?

    3. What was the amount and frequency of processed meat consumed?

    4. Were all of the above controlled for as confounders?

    And a comment about decreasing meat strategy: using meat in stews, soups and casseroles allowed me to control taste, texture, satiety and ingredients – quality and quantity, so that I could use meat as a major flavor source without it being the main ingredient.

  2. Galina L. says:

    My mom(she is 76 now) achieved normalization of her blood pressure after I convinced her to try a low-carbohydrate diet about 3 years ago. It is still working except periods of time when she do not follow that diet. She always ate a lot of vegetables (too much from my perspective), avoided sweets, but serious carbs limitation made her healthier. She was really surprised to find out that couple eggs with processed deli meat or cheese as a breakfast turned out to be the healthier alternative to the still-cut oatmeal.
    In the light of my experience (I am a lowcarber myself since 2007), I have trouble to believe that vegetarianism is worth considering as a health way of eating regardless of what some observational studies say. Not long time ago it was reported with fanfares that eating eggs is as bad as smoking.

  3. valerie says:

    Weren’t there a few intervention studies showing BP reductions on a low-carb diet? From memory, the reductions were much more important than what you report here, and they even happened in the absence of weight loss.

    I understand recommending a vegetarian diet is very safe and PC, but it doesn’t mean it is the best avenue for health.

    • David Maserang says:

      Evidence has been growing for decades that a diet with limited simple carbohydrates will lead to a significant reduction in at least the biochemical markers of diabetes and hypertension, and lead to significant weight loss. To encapsulate the science, I refer you to “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes. He also published a shorter and more readable version, “Why We Get Fat, and What To Do About It.” For practical advice from a physician who uses this to advise patients, read “The New Atkins for a New You” by Westman, Phinney, and Volek.

      David L Maserang, PhD

  4. David Grant says:

    I have taken to eat less red meat, and eat more vegetables and fruit and I love it. I like having in a stew and chili with more vegetables. I have also learned to live with less sugar, salt, and fat. I still like to barbecue, but I tend to barbecue more chicken and fish. I still love steak, but I eat it less. I have even learned to live with less sugar, salt, and fat, but I still indulge a bit on vacation. I think as long as you take a more sensible, moderate approach with you doctor, you should be okay. I have to medication for my blood pressure because of my family history which has been very successful. I also get as much exercise as I can as I walk to work and almost everywhere else. The only problem there is I have an injury called plantars fascitis which required some physio sometime back. I try to do my exercises but it is difficult. That risk is far more manageable than being inactive.

    • Galina L. says:

      Plantars fascitis could be well treated with an intense physical therapy under the supervision of a skilled therapist, not just doing something downloaded from internet by yourself. I have such experience. Often doing something is better than nothing, but in order to get real result people have to get serious. The same goes to your diet. It is great to reduce sugar , but some moderate approach is fine for healthy younger people. I also have an experience of getting hungrier and fatter despite intense exercise routine with fat limitation. Fat is important for satiety, especially saturated fat. Try to reduce carbohydrates and see what happens . Just be careful with your meds – BP could go too low.