DASH Diet: Powerful Medicine That Doesn't Come in a Pill - dummies

DASH Diet: Powerful Medicine That Doesn’t Come in a Pill

By Sarah Samaan, Rosanne Rust, Cynthia Kleckner

People have known for more than a century that high blood pressure is harmful, yet effective treatments didn’t hit the market until the 1950s. Thanks to the hard work of medical researchers worldwide, a wide variety of medications are now available. This is great, but medications can be costly, and even the very best options have potential side effects. Take a look at these stats:

  • More than two-thirds of people with hypertension need at least two drugs to keep their numbers under control.

  • Blood pressure medications can be lifesaving, but, depending on the pill, side effects can occur in up to 15 percent of people.

  • A typical blood pressure pill lowers blood pressure about 10 points — about the same reduction you see when following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

  • By cutting sodium to 1,500 milligrams, a low-sodium DASH diet, the effect could be equal to two different drugs (take a look at the following table to see just how effective reducing your daily sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams can be).

Effects of a 1,500-Milligram Sodium DASH Diet on Reducing Both Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressure
Characteristics Systolic Blood Pressure (in Millimeters of Mercury) Diastolic Blood Pressure (in Millimeters of Mercury)
Hypertensive –12 mm Hg –6 mm Hg
Pre-hypertensive –7 mm Hg –4 mm Hg
Age over 45 –12 mm Hg –6 mm Hg
Age under 45 –6 mm Hg –3 mm Hg
African American (all) –10 mm Hg –5 mm Hg
White and others (all) –8 mm Hg –4 mm Hg
Male –7 mm Hg –4 mm Hg
Female –11 mm Hg –5 mm Hg

Study from the New England Journal of Medicine, 2001.

Ironically, health experts know more about how to lower blood pressure with diet and lifestyle than ever before, but rates of hypertension continue to rise. That’s because people are eating more of the wrong stuff and less of the good stuff, exercising less, and carrying more weight. You don’t have to be a genius to see that you can save a lot of dough and feel better if you get in sync with DASH.

An analysis from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco reported that if Americans simply shaved off a third of their average daily sodium intake, the following would occur:

  • New heart disease cases could be cut by up to 120,000 per year.

  • Strokes would be reduced by as many as 66,000.

  • As many as 99,000 heart attacks could be averted.

  • 92,000 lives could be spared.

If those numbers don’t impress you (and we’re not sure why they wouldn’t), consider this: If everyone trimmed their salt habit, healthcare cost savings in the United States alone could amount to as much as $10 to $24 billion annually. And this doesn’t even get into the benefits that may surface if everyone chose to put a little more DASH into their lives. That’s powerful medicine indeed.