Diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) have common risk factors and often occur together.
Understanding diabetes and hypertension are the first ingredients in the holistic treatment of both conditions.
The five simple and incremental practices outlined below allow those of us living with diabetes and high blood pressure to live healthier, longer, and happier lives without being totally dependent on medication alone.
What is hypertension?
You've heard about it, but do you really understand it? Do you know what it actually means?
Quite simply, hypertension is just another (more medical) way of saying high blood pressure.
There’s a wide range for normal/healthy blood pressure, so it’s important to get a diagnosis from a medical professional, as your healthy range is unique to you.
Blood pressure is measured using the systolic pressure (blood pressure when the heart is pumping blood) and the diastolic pressure (blood pressure when the heart relaxes in between beats).
The common consensus is that someone with hypertension has blood pressure greater than 160 mm Hg (systolic) and 95 mm Hg (diastolic).
Why do we care about these ranges? Because if we fall out of range (specifically, if we have sustained, high blood pressure) risk factors start coming into play. The most common risks associated with high blood pressure are stroke and heart attack.
But how do we get to that point? There are several factors that increase your risk of high blood pressure. 1
Age and gender: The risk for high blood pressure increases as you age. Before age 65, it’s more common in men; after 65, it’s more common in women. And people with diabetes are more likely to develop high blood pressure at an earlier age.
Race: Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to develop high blood pressure, as well as experience its complications.
Obesity: According to the Mayo Clinic, the more you weigh the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. As the volume of blood circulated through your blood vessels increases, so does the pressure on your artery walls. If you are overweight, losing even 10 pounds can reduce high blood pressure and improve your body’s ability to respond to insulin resistance.
Diet: A diet too high in sodium and carbohydrates or too low in potassium can contribute to high blood pressure.
Alcohol and tobacco use: Heavy drinking can cause both blood sugar and blood pressure to spike. Tobacco use significantly increases high blood pressure and makes you more prone to its complications.
Existing health conditions, specifically diabetes.
The link between diabetes and hypertension
People with diabetes are about twice as likely to have high blood pressure than those who do not have diabetes.2
High blood pressure contributes to diabetes’ complications: coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease 3 -- you know the list. It’s a long one, which you've probably seen before (we won't bog you down with it here).
But why? Why are people with diabetes more prone to high blood pressure?
There’s so much talk of the link between diabetes and hypertension, and the negative impacts both have.
But, before getting lost in the list of complications, it’s important to understand the why behind this critical link.
And it’s simple. Diabetes causes a condition called atherosclerosis: the narrowing and hardening of the arteries. Diabetes (specifically, high blood sugar levels) causes inflammation and slowing blood flow in blood cells; in turn, that inflammation and slow blood flow not only cause atherosclerosis, they accelerate it.
Eventually, that accelerated and worsened version of atherosclerosis leads to high blood pressure.
Treating your diabetes and hypertension
Why manage diabetes and hypertension holistically? In today’s medically-advanced society, it’s easy to rely on healthcare providers and medications to alleviate the symptoms of diabetes and hypertension.
But doing so is expensive, lifestyle-limiting, and, ultimately, less effective than taking a holistic, self-driven approach to treating the factors that cause diabetes and high blood pressure in the first place.
Sometimes, medications are necessary. But it's something that should be assessed on an individual basis.
The ultimate goal should be to change the habits and behaviors that put you at risk for diabetes and hypertension.
Diabetes and high blood pressure, when managed well, become less and less life-limiting conditions. There are several habits that those of us with high blood pressure and diabetes can implement to reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke.
Use the One Drop app to track your data: A1C, weight, blood pressure, activity, food, meds, and blood sugar! One Drop will send you reminders to track the data points that you select and offers personal diabetes coaching. Because One Drop is made for people with diabetes, it is intrinsically tailored to help you manage high blood pressure as well!
Make sure your diet is rich in foods that are high in potassium, magnesium and fiber. Avoid foods that are high in sodium and carbohydrates. The One Drop app has recipes, tips, and coaching to keep you on track.
Recording food intake, blood pressure, and blood sugar over time will allow you to see the relationship between what you eat and what your body does! To avoid high blood pressure:
Eat foods that are high in potassium, magnesium, and fiber, like: Leafy greens, bananas, berries, red beets, skim milk and plain yogurt (without added sugar), oatmeal, fish with omega-3s, seeds, garlic and herbs, dark chocolate, nuts, olive oil, and pomegranates
Avoid foods that are high in sodium and carbohydrates, like: deli meat, canned vegetables, french fries, potatoes, cereals, bread, canned soup, and pizza. salt, and sugar
For more inspo on healthy, low carb, low sodium, nutritional eats, start here!
3. Find physical activities that you enjoy
Exercise does not have to mean lifting weights or running half marathons. While science tells us that exercise and weight loss reduce peoples’ risk for both diabetes and high blood pressure, it also emphasizes the importance of reducing stress. Low-impact group activities, such as walking, yoga, and swimming, are great ways to get moving without overwhelming yourself.
Start with a weekly goal of being active for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week. If this isn’t close to what you currently do, take incremental steps! Start with three days and work your way up. Start small, but start somewhere. Give it time, and you’ll see major results, both physically and mentally.
4. Make lifestyle changes
Quit smoking, limit alcohol intake, and avoid stressful situations. Seriously, though… quit smoking. Experts say that “even the otherwise most effective drug treatment may fail to reduce the probability of death [from hypertension] if smoking continues.” 4 Smoking increases blood pressure and thins the lining of your artery walls, increasing your risk of stroke.
If you have diabetes, drinking alcohol may cause your blood sugar to rise or fall and heavy alcohol consumption also increases the risk of high blood pressure. Drink in moderation and consult your doctor about your drinking habits. If you currently drink heavily, don’t stop altogether. Instead, slowly reduce intake over 1-2 weeks to avoid spiking your blood pressure.
5. Get support
You’re taking practical steps to reduce your risk factors. This is for you and for those around you that love you. Ending unhealthy habits and implementing healthy ones is no easy task, so be open and honest about your plan of action with those around you, including healthcare providers, friends, and family.
Many of the lifestyle changes suggested can also be positive social activities: walks can be taken with a neighbor, spouse, or friend. Healthy meals can be prepared with children and grandchildren! You are not the only one trying to quit smoking or start exercising; find someone to do it with, and you’ll be more likely to follow through.