At the beginning of the last century, high blood pressure was virtually non-existent amongst indigenous Africans. This phenomenon continued until the Second World War when Africans began to exhibit progressive rise in blood pressure which was age-related. From about 25 years ago, high blood pressure became established in Kenya and the neighbouring countries, in particularUganda. These trends have also been observed in West Africa notably Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and also in Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Experts blame this on the fact that the lifestyle of many indigenous African communities has changed tremendously in the last 70 years. Many people have abandoned the old ways of doing things and have adopted a modern, urban lifestyle which is more efficient and convenient, but at a price on their health.
A closer look at the main causes of high blood pressure would classify them into various categories as follows:
- Diet related Causes
- lifestyles related Causes
- Stress related Causes
- As side effects of certain medication
DIET RELATED CAUSES:
Consumption of processed foods:
As stated above, the diet of many indigenous African communities has changed tremendously in the last 70 years. Back then many Africans ate foods fresh from the farm, now they buy processed foodstuffs from the local retail outlets. Previously they cooked in pots made of earthen ware using firewood which cooked slowly over time, now they cook in aluminum pots using gas stoves which cook much faster at higher temperatures. Experts say that many essential nutrients (like Vitamin C) are destroyed in the cooking process where food is cooked rapidly over high temperatures, leaving us more vulnerable to agents that cause high blood pressure. We now consume more processed foods. Indeed, most of the foodstuffs we buy from our local supermarkets are processed to increase their shelf life. One reason for the relationship between junk food, High Blood Pressure (Hypertension), diabetes, cancer and obesity is because the processing of the foods removes a lot of the natural nutrients originally present in the food which enhanced our body’s ability to fight off disease.
The following foodstuffs are heavily consumed by many people worldwide and take a large part of any shopper’s budget.
a. Cooking Fats
Fats form a major part of every shopper’s monthly budget. Most fats consumed is in the form of cooking fat.
Yet cooking fat is a main culprit for High Blood Pressure. Here’s why. Most of the cheaper cooking oil that is available in the local supermarkets (which most shoppers buy to cut on shopping costs) is either hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. This means that these oils are solid at room temperature.
Manufacturers of these oils “hydrogenate” them in order to increase their shelf life. Hydrogenated oils (also known as Trans fats) have been found to raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while also lowering HDL (good) cholesterol levels. A rise in LDL (bad) cholesterol levels causes plaque which clogs’s blood vessels, which in turn raises blood pressure as the heart is forced to use more force to pump blood throughout the body.
Millers extract the germ (the part that germinates and which is rich in essential oils) and the outer husk (which is rich in minerals and fiber). What remains is the starch. This is also “bleached” to make the flour whiter and more appealing. Removing essential nutrients prevents the flour from developing moulds and attracting pests like weevils thereby increasing its shelf life. Unfortunately, the nutrients removed are also essential to the general wellbeing of your body.
In the end, what you the consumer end up buying is pure starch. Consumption of starch from the processed flour over a long period of time makes you gain weight. Weight gain increases your chances of developing high blood pressure. It also increases your chances of becoming diabetic as it is a quick source of blood sugar.
c. Bread, Cakes, Cookies, and Pastry items
These are made from processed flour and hydrogenated oils (basically to increase their shelf life).
We have already seen how processed flour and hydrogenated oils contribute towards high blood pressure.
Over Consumption of fun foods:
Too much consumption of fun foods like barbeque meats (“nyama choma”), sugar laden soft drinks, aged meats like sausages, pre-made frozen dinners, chips, sodas, cookies, crackers and fast foods also leads to high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
We all know that junk foods contain a lot of sugar and unhealthy fats and can eventually make us fat. But even before you get fat, eating a lot of processed foods leads to the start of high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetic symptoms. The processing of the foods removes a lot of the natural nutrients originally present in the food. An example is magnesium.
Magnesium deficiency has been related to the inflammation that starts the high blood pressure problems and compounds the insulin resistance common in diabetics. Initially, you might find that you tend to have lower than normal blood pressure if you eat a highly refined diet and during this time the blood pressure is kept under control due to the initial inflammation response initiated by the immune system. Eventually, the inflammation will lead to oxidative stress which then leads to changes in the arteries like less flexibility and build up of plaque which then leads to high blood pressure and coronary heart disease.
Very little consumption of fruits and vegetables:
Fruits and vegetables contain essential nutrients (vitamins and minerals). Very few people consume sufficient amounts of Vitamins and minerals which could help us maintain normal blood pressure levels.
Vitamins B, C, E and minerals like Calcium, magnesium and potassium have all been found to help reduce high blood pressure. Yet these Vitamins and minerals are not consumed in sufficient amounts by a great majority of people. These vitamins are minerals are found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale and in citrus fruits and milk. Another very important source of vitamins and minerals is a high quality dietary supplement made from natural ingredients that form part of the human food chain.
Very little or no consumption of good fats:
Good fats also known as essential oils or essential fatty acids are fats critical for our health but cannot be manufactured by our bodies. Examples are omega 3 fatty acids. Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids include cold-water fish, flax seed, soy, and walnuts.
These fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and also boost our immune systems. They help keep our heart and blood vessels healthy by removing plaque which easily clog arteries and other major blood vessels, a major contributor in raising blood pressure.
Over consumption of salt:
Salt (sodium) is essential to our bodies. Normally the kidneys control the level of salt. If there is too much salt, the kidneys pass it into urine. But when our salt intake levels are very high, the kidneys cannot keep up and the salt ends up in our bloodstream. Salt attracts water. When there is too much salt in the blood, the salt draws more water into the blood. More water increases the volume of blood which raises our blood pressure.