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6 Common Blood Pressure Myths, Debunked  

The truth behind the foods, drinks and habits that can impact your numbers

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AARP (Source: Shutterstock(2))

Nearly half of all U.S. adults and more than 60 percent of those over the age of 60 have high blood pressure, putting them at increased risk for heart disease and stroke. And a big problem is, many of them don’t even know they have it.

That’s because unlike a lot of health conditions, high blood pressure — anything above a reading of 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) — doesn’t typically announce itself with warning signs or symptoms. “They call it a silent killer for that reason,” says Luke Laffin, M.D., codirector for the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic.

The idea that you’ll have symptoms of high blood pressure before you can do anything about it is a common myth, Laffin says. Here’s a look at six other blood pressure myths, plus tips you can use to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

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Myth 1: Some types of salt are better than others

Salt has a major influence on blood pressure. Eat too much of it and your blood pressure will shoot up, due to the extra fluid your body retains to dilute the sodium. (All that extra fluid in your blood vessels increases the pressure and makes the heart work harder.) Salt also shrinks the blood vessels over time, the American Heart Association says, causing an increase in blood pressure.

No surprise, then, that people with high blood pressure are often advised to limit their salt intake, and many wonder if swapping table salt for sea salt or Himalayan salt can help them achieve that. Not so fast. “It’s still sodium chloride, and it’s still an issue,” says Sandra Taler, M.D., a nephrologist and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.

“When it comes to blood pressure, it all just comes down to milligrams of sodium, more than anything else — and it’s all bad for raising blood pressure,” Laffin adds.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day of sodium — that’s about 1 teaspoon of table salt — and ideally no more than 1,500 mg for most adults. Still, most Americans consume about 3,400 mg of sodium per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

All that sodium isn’t coming from the saltshaker. In fact, the majority comes from processed and packaged foods, which is why checking labels is key. Taler says many people aren’t aware that something as plain as bread is a major source of sodium. Pizza, sandwiches, soups and cheese are also high in sodium.

Myth 2: If you want to lower your blood pressure, cut the coffee

It’s true that you may want to avoid drinking caffeine 30 minutes ahead of getting your blood pressure taken. Chugging a cup of Joe right before could cause a temporary spike in your blood pressure and give you an inaccurate reading. But for most people, drinking coffee doesn’t have a long-term effect on blood pressure, health experts say.

Still, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend limiting your daily caffeine intake to 300 mg per day — about three cups of coffee.

Myth 3: Wine is good for the heart, so it’s not a blood pressure risk 

One beverage that will cause your blood pressure to go up in both the short term and long term is alcohol. According to the Mayo Clinic, heavy drinkers who cut back to moderate drinking can lower their systolic pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) by about 5.5 mm Hg and their diastolic pressure (the bottom number) by about 4 mm Hg.


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Myth 4: If high blood pressure runs in your family, you’re destined to get it

Not necessarily. “You’re not destined to have anything. But it does put you at higher risk for developing hypertension in the future,” Laffin says.

His advice: Work on preventing — even delaying — a diagnosis, so that maybe you don’t have to start on medications as early, or can take fewer medications. “Things that you do from a lifestyle perspective can help with that,” Laffin says. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, not smoking and eating a heart-healthy diet.

Myth 5: You need to lose a lot of weight to see a drop in blood pressure

When it comes to weight loss, it doesn’t take much to start seeing a positive change in your blood pressure, Taler says. Even slight weight loss can move the needle.

Expect your blood pressure readings to go down about 1 mm Hg for roughly every 2 pounds you lose, according to guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. That means losing 15 to 20 pounds of excess weight could have a similar impact on your blood pressure as medication.

Myth 6: I take blood pressure medication, so I don’t need to adjust my lifestyle

Just because you take medication to lower your blood pressure doesn’t mean you should toss healthy diet and exercise habits out the window. “They essentially provide synergistic benefits,” Laffin says.

Take salt, for example. “If you’re on a high-sodium diet, the effect of certain blood pressure medication classes, like ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers, is not nearly as pronounced as if you’re on a low-sodium diet,” he says. “Really, they go hand in hand.” 

The Truth About Stress and Blood Pressure

Find yourself in a stressful situation and chances are you’ll find your blood pressure rising — but only temporarily. That’s because your body releases stress hormones, which can cause your blood vessels to constrict and your heart to beat faster. When the stress reaction goes away, your blood pressure will return to normal levels, the American Heart Association says.

Chronic stress, however, may have a long-term impact on blood pressure. “So making sure we have systems in place to deal with that, or at least strategies to deal with that, can be important," Laffin says. A 2023 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that adults who practiced mindfulness had significantly lower systolic blood pressure numbers  six months later, compared with adults who didn’t.

Anger can also come with some heart risks, new research suggests. A study published May 1 in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that brief bouts of anger had a negative impact on blood vessel function in healthy adults. The takeaway, says Glenn Levine, M.D., professor of medicine-cardiology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, is that your heart health isn’t just affected by traditional factors like diet and exercise, but by psychological factors as well, like stress, anger and depression.

“If you feel that you have more than the normal amount of those, or that you don't deal well with them, it is worthwhile to discuss them with a mental health professional. And this may help you not only mitigate or control those negative psychological factors, but, as an added bonus, it may contribute to your overall heart health, at least a little bit,” says Levine, who is also a volunteer expert with the American Heart Association.

A Guide to High Blood Pressure 

Discover the risk factors, diagnostic process and potential symptoms of hypertension

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