Even `Normal' Blood Pressure May Be Too High

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IF YOUR blood pressure is below 140/90, it's considered normal and not in need of lowering. But it's not as if you're automatically free of heart disease risk with a blood pressure of 139/89 and undergo a steep rise m risk by crossing the 140/90 threshold. The risk increases incrementally as blood pressure goes up. In other words, just because a person's blood pressure is "normal" doesn't mean it's optimal. That's particularly true in this country.

A just-released study that followed more than 12,000 men for 25 years reveals that an American man with a blood pressure of 140/90 is three times as likely to die of heart disease as a man from Japan or near the Mediterranean with the exact same blood pressure reading. The researchers, who studied men in six different areas of the world, speculate that the wide differences in risk among men with similar blood pressure may have to do, in part, with differences in their diets. For instance, compared to men in the U.S., the men in the Mediterranean region ate less meat and dairy products, which contain saturated fat, and more olive oil, fish, fruits, and vegetables, all of which have virtually no saturated fat. Those differences contribute to lower blood cholesterol levels, which in turn could lower heart disease risk at any given blood pressure level.

Whatever the reason for the differences, though, the results suggest that even men with normal blood pressure, particularly if it's on the high side of normal, would do well by themselves to take steps to lower it.

The best ways to keep blood pressure as low as possible: lose excess weight; eat less salt and other sodium-containing items; have no more than two alcoholic beverages a day if you're a man, one if you're a woman; exercise more; and eat more high-potassium foods, namely plant foods such as potatoes, orange juice, cantaloupe, and beans.

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