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FAQ (Health)

 Dr. George Jacob
Heart Infocenter


Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Causes of High Blood Pressure

The causes of high blood pressure vary. According to National Institutes of Health, the causes for high blood pressure may include narrowing of the arteries, a greater than normal volume of blood, or the heart beating faster or more forcefully than it should. Any of these conditions will cause increased pressure against the artery walls. High blood pressure might also be caused by another medical problem. Most of the time, the cause is not known. Diet, definitely, plays a crucial role in the development of hypertension along with stress.

"Although behavior patterns and stress play an important part, hypertension is most closely related to dietary factors. Hypertension is another of the many diseases or syndromes associated with the western diet, and is found almost entirely in developed countries. People living in remote areas of China, the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Panama, Brazil and Africa show virtually no evidence of essential hypertension, nor do they experience a rise in blood pressure with advancing age. Furthermore, when racially identical members of these societies migrate to less remote areas and adopt a more 'civilized' diet the incidence of hypertension increases dramatically.

Michel Murray: Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine


Hypertension is most closely related to dietary factors, especially the "diet of the civilized society." Many dietary factors have been shown to correlate with blood pressure, including sodium to potassium ratio, percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber and magnesium content, and levels of simple carbohydrates, total fats and cholesterol.


Population as well as clinical studies have repeatedly demonstrated that obesity is a major factor in hypertension.


Lifestyle factors such as coffee consumption, alcohol intake, lack of exercise and smoking are all things that are very important causes of elevated blood pressure.


The effects of long-term caffeine consumption on blood pressure have not yet been clearly determined. One large study involving 6,321 adults demonstrated a small elevation in blood pressure when comparing those who drank five or more cups a day to non-coffee drinkers. Short-term studies consistently showed elevation in blood pressure. But that usually normalize after a few days.


Alcohol produce acute hypertension in some patients probably via the increased adrenaline secretion. Chronic alcohol consumption is one of the strongest predictors (sodium consumption being the other) of blood pressure.


Cigarette smoking is a contributing factor in hypertension. Smokeless tobacco, i.e. snuff, chewing tobacco and plug, also induces hypertension via its nicotine and sodium content. Smoking is also positively associated with increased sugar, alcohol and caffeine consumption. Nicotine stimulates the adrenaline secretion.


Stress is a causative factor of high blood pressure in many instances. Relaxation techniques such as biofeedback, autogenics, transcendental meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation and hypnosis have all been shown to have some value in lowering blood pressure.


Exercise reduces both stress and blood pressure.

Heavy metals

Chronic exposure to lead from environmental sources, including drinking water, is associated with increased cardiovascular mortality. Elevated blood lead levels have been found in a significant number of people with high blood pressure.

Cadmium has also been shown to induce hypertension. Persons suffering from high blood pressure are found to have blood cadmium levels three to four times of those in people with normal blood pressure. Cigarette smokers typically have much higher body cadmium levels due to cadmium's presence in cigarette smoke.

Risks for High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is very common. More than 50 million American adults  (1 in 4)  have high blood pressure.

Some factors associated with an unfavorable outcome in hypertension are:

  • Black racial background

  • Youth

  • Male

  • Persistent diastolic blood pressure (i.e. pressure between the pulses, when the heart is relaxed) of greater than 115 mm Hg.

  • Smoking

  • Diabetes mellitus

  • Elevated blood cholesterol levels

  • Obesity

  • Evidence of end-organ damage, e.g. cardiac enlargement, ECG abnormalities and congestive heart failure

Your risk of developing high blood pressure is high if you are an African American. Studies have found that African Americans may get it earlier in life and more often than white Americans.

Your risk of getting high blood pressure increases as you grow older. For example, about 60% of all Americans age 60 and older have high blood pressure. (The average percentage in all age groups is 25%)

Other risk factors are: overweight, genetics (those with a family history of high blood pressure have a better chance of contracting hypertension.), high-normal blood pressure (130-139/85-89 mm Hg), high intake of salt and highly stressed lifestyle and poor diet habits.

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