High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – affects approximately 16 million people in the UK, according to Blood Pressure UK.
It is commonly treated with lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking and being more active, and certain medications.
However, new research has discovered that eating a particular diet plan was as effective as medication at lowering blood pressure.
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has found that combining a low-salt diet with the DASH diet had the same effect as blood pressure-lowering drugs.
The link between eating lots of salty foods and hypertension has been well established, while the DASH diet has been shown to be beneficial to heart health.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and involves consuming lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as low-fat or fat-free dairy, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts.
Previous research has shown that low-salt and DASH diets on their own can lower blood pressure readings, however this is the first study to find that a combination of both could be particularly effective.
Scientists wanted to examine the effect of both diets on adults with early or modest forms of high blood pressure.
Such people are considered to be at greatest risk of developing more severe hypertension, and are thought to be more likely to experience a stroke, kidney disease, heart attacks and heart failure.
“Our results add to the evidence that dietary interventions are as effective as – or more effective than – antihypertensive drugs in those at highest risk for high blood pressure, and should be a routine first-line treatment option for such individuals,” said Professor Stephen Juraschek, from Johns Hopkins University.
Antihypertensive drugs are a class of drugs used to treat hypertension.
Researchers looked at 412 adults between the ages of 23 and 76 years with stage 1 hypertension – considered the beginning stage of high blood pressure.
They found that those at highest risk of serious hypertension would benefit most from a combination of the low-salt and DASH diets.
“What we’re observing from the combined dietary intervention is a reduction in systolic blood pressure as high as, if not greater than, that achieved with prescription drugs,” said Professor Lawrence Appel, senior study author from John Hopkins University.
“It’s an important message to patients that they can get a lot of mileage out of adhering to a healthy and low-sodium diet.”
The researchers will next test the findings on larger groups of people.