Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Diabetes is very much like a numbers game, isn’t it? At Joslin Diabetes Center, where I work, we pretty much drill into people the importance of “knowing their numbers”, including A1C, blood pressure, cholesterol, and microalbumin. Also, let’s not overlook the necessity to not only check blood glucose levels but also look at the numbers (again) for trends and patterns.

While many people focus on A1C as a marker of diabetes control, a number that’s sometimes overlooked, or at least not given the attention it deserves, is blood pressure. We all get our blood pressures measured at the doctor’s office (hopefully), and we may or may not be told the results. Many of you are likely taking medicine for blood pressure. From 2005 to 2008, 67% of adults 20 and older with diabetes had a blood pressure greater than 140/90 or were taking medicine to control their blood pressure. Remember that the blood pressure goal for most people with diabetes is less than 130/80. How are you measuring up?

The big deal about blood pressure is that if it’s too high, it greatly increases your chances of diabetic eye disease, kidney disease, heart failure, heart attack, and stroke. So, while you should pay attention to your daily blood glucose readings and your A1C levels, it’s wise to also keep tabs on your blood pressure.

Getting It Down
Most people with high blood pressure need to or will need to take medicine to help control it, much like people with diabetes eventually need medicine to help control blood glucose levels. Many people even need two or three medicines to help get blood pressure into a safe range. However, there are some people who may be able to get by with lifestyle measures. And even if you do take blood pressure meds, lifestyle measures can and do help to lower your blood pressure, too. Medicine and lifestyle go hand in hand.

But apart from cutting back on sodium (important to do) and shedding a few pounds (also important to do), what else helps to lower blood pressure? You should always work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan for your blood pressure, and if you take blood pressure medicine, don’t stop it on your own. In the meantime, take a look at some of the steps below and see if any of these may help you more easily achieve your goal:

Get moving. For many people, exercise is truly the best medicine for a whole host of things. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Don’t worry if you can’t do all 30 minutes at once: break it up into three 10-minute segments, if you need to. You’ll still reap the benefits. And choose something that you like to do.

Get your “ohm” on. It sounds so New Agey, but meditation has been proven to lower systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 4.7 mmHg and the diastolic (bottom number) by 3.2 mmHg. These are significant drops, and the good thing is that there are no side effects, like you might get from medicine. Plus, meditation helps alleviate stress, depression, and anxiety.

Power up with potassium. Potassium, which is a mineral, can help to lower the amount of sodium in the blood and literally take the pressure off of artery walls. Foods rich in potassium include oranges, cantaloupe, kidney beans, peas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and milk. If you have kidney disease, however, talk with your doctor or dietitian before eating high-potassium foods.

Imbibe (just a little). Alcohol is a tricky thing in terms of health benefits. Too much obviously isn’t good, but some studies now show that a little alcohol may actually be better than none at all. Researchers found that light drinking (1/4 to 1/2 a drink per day for women) lowers blood pressure more than not drinking at all. (A drink is considered to be 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits.) And alcohol, in moderate amounts, may help protect against heart disease. If you don’t drink alcohol, it probably doesn’t make sense to start. But talk with your doctor about what a safe amount might be for you.

Go for the grain. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Whole-grain foods are good for you. Among other things, whole-grain foods, such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal can help lower blood pressure, likely thanks to their fiber, vitamin, and mineral content. When you watch your portions, whole-grain foods shouldn’t send your blood glucose levels sky high, either. And eating a bowl of oatmeal means you probably won’t be chowing down on a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich.

Indulge (a little bit). Good news for chocolate fans: Eating dark chocolate may drop your blood pressure. The catch? You likely have to eat dark chocolate, not milk chocolate. Dark chocolate contains more flavanols, which are phytonutrients, than milk chocolate, and it’s these flavanols that seem to lower blood pressure. Also, yes, you need to watch the portion. We’re not talking about a one-pound Hershey Bar. More like one quarter to one ounce per day, or one square. Finally, the chocolate should contain at least 70% cocoa in order to do its job.

Sip on this. If you like tea, you might give hibiscus tea a try. In one study, subjects who drank three cups of hibiscus tea each day for six weeks had a 7.2 point drop in their systolic blood pressure compared to folks who drank a placebo tea. Hisbiscus tea is a ruby red colored herbal tea, with a fruity flavor. It’s full of antioxidants that are likely protective against heart disease.

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Comments
  1. Can someone tell me just what blood pressure should be? I have often wondered.

    Posted by Virginia Fowler |
  2. I do all of that and my BP is still high.

    Have not tried the Hibiscus Tea but I have an idea it won’t help much.

    Tried Shane Ellison CardioFX but it does not seem to work either. They also have bad customer service.

    Posted by BooHoo |
  3. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/highbloodpressure.html

    This article says:

    120/80 or lower is normal blood pressure

    140/90 or higher is high blood pressure

    Between 120 and 139 for the top number, or between 80 and 89 for the bottom number is prehypertension

    Posted by Betty Cash |
  4. Hi Virginia,

    Thanks for your question. For people who have diabetes, the blood pressure goal is usually less than 130/80. If you also have kidney disease, your goal may be lower.

    Posted by acampbell |
  5. Hi Virginia,

    In answer to your question regarding what blood pressure should be, the new numbers from the AMA are 120/80. The systolic number,which is the top number is the easiest to control with medications. The diastolic number, which is the bottom number is hardest to control and that’s when your heart is suppose to be resting.

    Posted by Connie Godin |
  6. According to this article, the blood pressure goal for most people with diabetes is less than 130/80.

    Posted by Cathy Woofter |
  7. My blood pressure was in the normal range and then I started exercising. Wow, what a difference!! It has dropped quite a bit. My doctor is really happy with those numbers.

    Posted by Cathy R |
  8. I’ve always heard bananas are a good source of potassium…….is that untrue?

    Cause I lovvvveeee bananas!

    Posted by Leo |
  9. blood pressures for me twice a day morning and evening the results go to the endo the cardiologist, the neurologist and the nephrologist and the primary care..another side effect of the diabetes not as well known autonomic neuropathy..but the little log book keeps it all straight..gotta live with all this stuff the neuropathy has caused my multiple doses of blood pressure meds (8 at one time) to drop to the minimal one that i started with years ago and it still doesn’t hold well..the insulin use has been cut more than in have and still doesn’t prevent the dropouts on a regular basis
    doing yoga and sitting around waiting for the nexrt thing lol so fun for sure

    Posted by marylittle |
  10. Hi Leo,

    You’re correct — bananas are a rich source of potassium. One banana has about 470 milligrams of potassium. Other foods high in potassium include mango, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon.

    Posted by acampbell |
  11. Excellent article………as a directiom and reminder for the techniques and strategies!
    Thanks.

    Posted by Sonya Googins |

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