Updated on July 6th, 2023 at 10:09 pm
Excess weight and fat affect blood pressure by increasing “vascular resistance.” This means that your heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body. As your heart strains to keep up, it simultaneously raises your blood pressure.
If you’re like me, you are likely worried about how excess weight is potentially giving you high blood pressure, too. I’ve done some more research into this topic and found some great insights that I think should help you understand the situation better, and know what steps to take.
The effect of weight on blood pressure
It has long been held that body mass index (BMI) and risk of hypertension are directly linked, at least since 1923 when Dr. Brandreth Symonds first established a link in his paper “The Blood Pressure of Healthy Men and Women.”
When you gain weight, your peripheral vascular resistance or systemic vascular resistance (SVR) increases. What is happening is that your weight gain is causing your blood vessels to constrict, a process known as vasoconstriction, and that is the main cause of your SVR going up.
Back in 2008, AHA Journals published an article, “Weight Loss and Blood Pressure Control,” in which it cited a 1995 study from the New England Medical Journal that women with a BMI of more than 29 were up to 6 times more likely to experience hypertension than those whose BMI was under 22.
The same article details further risks brought by high blood pressure from excess weight. These risks include the biggest killer in the United States and the wider world, cardiovascular disease (heart disease), as well as strokes, diabetes, cancer, and more.
Why does weight gain increase blood pressure?
At this point, you may be thinking that it’s only significant weight gain that can give you high blood pressure. In fact, the American Heart Association’s High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions in 2014 received a study that showed a gain of as little as five to eleven pounds can increase your blood pressure.
To explain the connection, I found this great video below featuring Dr. Vishva Dev, MD from the Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. According to Dr. Dev: “[Weight gain] does a lot of things to the body, none of them are good. It increases body mass, increases resistance to flow, increases high blood pressure.”
He goes on to explain that as weight gain gets more serious, the concentration of fat cells increases and that generates insulin resistance. This causes the buildup of cholesterol in the arteries that inevitably leads to high blood pressure.
How does belly fat affect blood pressure?
In the same study presented at the American Heart Association event in 2014, the key area where weight was gained in the test subjects was specifically inside their abdomen. The 8-week test gave 16 people with a normal BMI an extra 400 to 1,200 calories a day to examine the effects. Results were then compared to another group of 10 normal-weight people who had not changed their diet at all.
The changed-diet subjects experienced increased blood pressure from 114mm Hg to 118 mm Hg on average. Fortunately, the 5- to 11-pound weight gain didn’t affect cholesterol, insulin, or blood sugar levels, nor will it increase the immediate risk of heart disease.
So, even a little extra belly fat can cause high blood pressure, and if left unchecked it can then create a chain reaction that starts to affect your cardiovascular health in a much more serious way.
Can dieting cause blood pressure to rise?
Dieting can cause your blood pressure to fluctuate. It depends on what kind of diet you are embarking upon. At Extra Large Living we have gone through a few different diets and know that all of them can affect you differently.
If you favor a diet in which you consume high-fiber foods, as well as wholegrain options instead of processed starch, then your blood pressure can start to come down. High-fiber and wholegrain food is richer in vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional value, and will leave you feeling a more comfortable kind of full after eating.
Fad diets popular in the United States like the Keto eating plan, on the other hand, purport to burn fat and help you quickly and safely lose weight. Medical experts, however, strongly disagree with this assessment.
New research in the American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology shows that a diet consisting of 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and 5 percent carbohydrates will actually have a negative impact on blood pressure.
The main problem with these high-fat eating plans is that they rely on switching your body into a kind of “starvation mode,” which works to burn fat for fuel. It sounds like it would work well, but doctors are concerned about the simultaneous rise in certain hormone levels that also results from such a process. These hormones are what actually increase your blood pressure.
How does diet affect blood pressure?
As we mentioned above, a healthy and balanced diet can be used as a tool to lower blood pressure, just as an imbalanced one can work to increase it. Let’s start with how diet can decrease your blood pressure.
First, whole grains and foods rich in fiber are two groups that you should strongly favor. For example, beans, lentils, brown rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta all fit the bill. It’s important to look for these varieties instead of the much more heavily processed items like white rice or white bread, for instance.
Next, two more items in your diet could help in reducing blood pressure, the first of which is citrus fruit. In particular, Orange and grapefruit are packed with vitamins and minerals that can work to keep your heart healthier and blood pressure down, but they have been known to interfere with some blood pressure medications. If you’re currently using a medication, you should consult with your doctor about how diet may affect its use.
Finally, the other item in that shortlist is fatty fish like salmon. Their omega-3 can really help with blood pressure, as a study published in PubMed Central in 2011 showed. The 2,036 healthy participants with elevated omega-3 fats had lower blood pressure than those with the lowest omega-3 levels.
How about foods that can increase your blood pressure levels? The main food- and drink-based culprits are sodium, alcohol, and caffeine. Checking the labels on your food packaging, avoiding processed food, and resisting the urge to add salt while cooking will all help you reduce your sodium levels. Cutting back on alcohol, coffee, and cigarettes will also be a big help.
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