Results of the study of more than 800 adults were published in the April 23 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. Those that were counseled on weight loss, improved exercise and a low-salt diet and who were given specific dietary instructions lowered systolic blood pressure (the upper number) by 11 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) by 6.4 mmHg over a six-month period. The number of people with uncontrolled hypertension dropped from 37 percent to just 12 percent.
Participants lost an average of 13 pounds, improved fitness, reduced salt intake, ate three additional servings of fruit and vegetables each day, increased dietary calcium and lowered the amounts of total fat and saturated fat they ate. The percentage of participants with optimal blood pressure (defined as systolic blood pressure less than 120 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure less than 80 mmHg) increased from 0 to 35. Only a few required blood pressure medications.
"Our study shows that people can simultaneously make multiple lifestyle changes that lower their blood pressure and improve their health," says study chair Lawrence J. Appel, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine, epidemiology and international health. "The key issue now is helping people maintain these changes so they don't revert back to less healthy behaviors."
The group that had the best outcomes received counseling on the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. It includes whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts, and is reduced in fats, red meat, sweets and sugar-containing beverages. This group also was advised to exercise, lose weight and reduce salt intake.