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The Relationship Between Stress and Blood Pressure

written by: brandieewine • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 3/18/2011

What is the relationship between stress and high blood pressure? This article discusses the factors that cause stress and blood pressure, and what science currently knows about the relationship between the two.

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    Researchers have been unable to produce a connection between long-term stress and long-term high blood pressure. It has been established that stressful circumstances can contribute to an immediate and temporary increase in blood pressure. These spikes in blood pressure are due to the release of adrenaline, which is often referred to as the body's fight or flight hormone.

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    Diet

    The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute states that eating a proper diet can greatly reduce the risk of high blood pressure. They conducted a study referred to as the DASH eating plan. The Acronym DASH means Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. During this study individuals with previously high blood pressure adhered to a diet low in fat, cholesterol, red meats, sugars and saturated fat. There was an increase focus on fruits, vegetables, grains and lean meats. They observed that blood pressure levels of the participants dropped when adhering to the healthier diet.

    Likewise, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute conducted a second study entitled DASH-Sodium. During this study, individuals were tested that were currently following the "Dash eating plan" as well as those who were not. It was determined that blood pressure levels dropped for those who were following the Dash eating plan as well as those who were on a typical diet. The greatest blood pressure decrease was seen in the group that followed the Dash eating plan and adhered to a lower sodium diet. These studies presented a concrete connection between dietary consumption and high blood pressure.

    Dr. Matthew Keene, who is a psychiatrist and eating disorders expert, states that serotonin is the key to overeating and stress. He used the term "happy juice" when describing the role that serotonin plays in our bodies. He went on to say that individuals who are compulsive overeaters have a deficiency of four times the amount of serotonin than the average person. The body utilizes carbohydrates to raise serotonin levels. Often emotional eaters binge on unhealthy carbohydrates such as cakes, cookies, pasta, and other junk food. This often leads to weight gain and increased blood pressure.

    A diet rich in healthy carbohydrates can be quite effective in regaining normal serotonin levels. Achieving healthy serotonin levels can greatly assist with the overeating and stress. Therefore the indirect connection between stress and blood pressure in this case is that decreased serotonin levels can lead to increased stress and increased bad carbohydrate cravings and overeating. This overeating and excessive "bad" carbohydrate overload leads to increased blood pressure and weight gain.

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    Adrenaline

    Glenn Ganelmann MD, MPH states that there is a possibility that a connection exists between catecholamine levels and blood pressure. Catecholamine's are the hormones that the body releases during "fight or flight" circumstances. This is most often adrenaline. When adrenaline is released blood pressure is temporarily raised to accommodate the release. There has been discussion of a build-up of these hormones which can lead to long-term elevated blood pressure.

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    Lack of Exercise

    There are several other bad habits that are linked to stress and have also been linked to high blood pressure. One example is lack of exercise. When someone is dealing with stress and anxiety, they often do not want to exercise. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute states that exercise is one of the most important ways to control high blood pressure. Likewise exercise produces endorphins which are linked to mood. Therefore a lack of exercise can result in additional stress and anxiety while also causing elevated blood pressure.

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    Smoking

    Smoking is another bad habit that has is linked to both blood pressure and stress. Many individuals believe that smoking aids in stress reduction. The Cleveland Clinic website states that many people assume the mind altering affects of smoking reduces their stress symptoms, when it actually raises blood pressure, heart rates and other harmful effects.

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    Conclusion

    People who are experiencing stress usually want to alleviate the symptoms as quickly as possible. It is important to refrain from adopting habits that will lead to increased blood pressure or other physical and mental ailments. There is currently no direct link between stress and high blood pressure. Yet there are many relating factors that can reduce both stress and high blood pressure. Contact a physician immediately to determine which solutions are the best.

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    References

    Health Central http://www.healthcentral.com/high-blood-pressure/c/88/15332/high

    National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/prevent/factors/stress.htm

    The Doctors http://thedoctorstv.com/forums/519/topics/9928

    Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-and-high-blood-pressure/HI00092

    Healthy Place http://www.healthyplace.com/eating-disorders/transcripts/compulsive-overeating-with-dr-matthew-keene/menu-id-58/

    Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-pressure/HI00024

    Cleveland Clinic http://my.clevelandclinic.org/healthy_living/stress_management/hic_stress_stress_management_and_smoking.aspx