One Change May Help Middle-Aged and Older Adults Reduce Blood Pressure

  • Article
  • June 24, 2014

As health and wellness professionals, you know the value of recommending small steps when helping your clients or patients reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

When a person has multiple risk factors, often many lifestyle changes are needed. The more you can help people focus on one change at a time, the less overwhelmed they will feel, and the more successful they likely will be at maintaining those changes over time. I want to tell you about a new study evaluating the effect of dairy foods on blood pressure that may help you prioritize your recommendations – but first a little background.

Years of research have focused on identifying diet and lifestyle changes to help reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease – and blood pressure is no exception. In fact, lifestyle modifications, including diet, is the first line of approach recommended in clinical guidelines for physicians who are treating patients with elevated blood pressure – an important and predictive risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In these guidelines, adoption of the DASH eating plan – rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods – is listed second only to weight loss in its effectiveness for lowering blood pressure.

As you are likely aware, the DASH diet has become a mainstay of dietary modifications to reduce blood pressure. However, the blood pressure lowering effects of the DASH dietary pattern as shown in the original clinical trial back in 1997 could not be attributed solely to the intake of low-fat dairy foods, since other dietary changes (e.g., reduction in total and saturated fat) were also made.

That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about sharing the results of a clinical trial published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In middle-aged and older adults with high blood pressure, just one change – adding 4 servings of non-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese to their routine diets (totaling approximately 1800 calories) – brought about a significant reduction of systolic blood pressure as well as pulse pressure, an indicator of vascular health.

Within three weeks, the high-dairy diet significantly reduced systolic blood pressure and improved pulse pressure; conversely when all dairy products were removed from the diet, pulse pressure significantly increased. There were no significant differences in total calorie intake between the two conditions (~1800 kcals/day).

In addition, intakes of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D significantly increased on the high-dairy food diet, which may have contributed to the blood pressure-lowering effect of the dairy foods.

These findings add to the body of literature on the blood pressure lowering effects of dairy foods many of which are discussed in this science summary.

As you help your patients/clients with high blood pressure and develop an overall healthy meal plan for them, it is important to include dairy foods — especially for those who are habitually low dairy consumers. Here are some recipes to help your clients easily incorporate dairy foods into their daily diet.