Drink skimmed milk for lower blood pressure
Consuming lots of low-fat dairy products, like skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurt, could cut the risk of developing high blood pressure and help maintain a healthy heart, say scientists writing the in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands looked at 2,245 adults aged 55 and over who did not have a history of hypertension (high blood pressure). The volunteers were interviewed by a trained dietician and dietary habits including dairy intake were recorded.
Blood pressure was assessed at the beginning of the study and again two years later. High blood pressure was defined as 140/90 mmHg or above.
The team found that those people who consumed the most low-fat dairy had a 31 per cent decreased risk of high blood pressure compared to those who consumed the least. The same association was not found with high-fat products like full-fat milk or cheese.
This is not the first study to show that a healthy diet can significantly cut the risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease.
“Trials show a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy products can substantially reduce blood pressure,” say the authors of the study. “Although the underlying mechanism remains to be established, it has been linked to proteins, bioactive peptides and minerals such as calcium, potassium or magnesium.”
Around 10 million people in the UK have high blood pressure which is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure tends to run in families and is also more common in people who smoke or are obese.
People diagnosed with hypertension are encouraged to make lifestyle changes to lower their blood pressure including following a healthy diet, losing weight and reducing salt, caffeine and alcohol intake. If blood pressure levels remain at 160/100 mmHg or above drug treatment may be advised. There are several medications for hypertension including ACE (Angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors, calcium-channel blockers, diuretics and beta-blockers.
Mike Rich, Executive Director of the Blood Pressure Association welcomed the study but cautioned against over indulging in low-fat dairy.
“While this study is further evidence that a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, there is not enough evidence to say that low fat dairy products alone can do this, ” said Rich.
“So we wouldn’t suggest that people need to start gulping down gallons of skimmed milk or other low-fat dairy products just yet. It’s all about balance – opting for low fat in place of high fat dairy products, as part of a low-salt diet with lots of fruit and vegetables will set you on your way to lifelong healthy blood pressure.”
Milk has loads of calcium.
Calcium plays a role in the constriction and relaxation of your blood vessels. Supplementing with calcium has helped lower blood pressure in a number of studies.
If drinking loads of low-fat milk everyday isn’t your cup of tea talking a daily calcium suppliment (500 – 600 mg) will help put you on the road to lower blood pressure.
UPDATE (2015): Most scientific research is now showing that a low-fat diet is not necessarily the answer for high blood pressure, and that many naturally-occuring fats such as those in butter and milk are not in fact bad for your blood pressure.
See my post here for more details: saturated fat and high blood pressure
In the meantime, focus on getting enough calcium rather than avoiding fat (although most fats in processed foods are still bad for high blood pressure!).