In his new book, The Spectrum, Ornish points out that there's a wide
range of lifestyle changes. Somewhere in that spectrum is the kind of change
that's right for you.
WebMD spoke with Ornish about the way lifestyle change can prevent or
reverse high blood pressure.
Can I really make the kinds of lifestyle changes that will lower my blood pressure?
Changing your lifestyle is a very personal decision. I never tell patients
what to do. But what concerns me, and why I appreciate the chance to talk with
WebMD, is that many people don't even know they have a choice.
They go to their doctor or dietitian or nurse and get put on a very moderate
diet -- less red meat, more fish and chicken, three or four eggs a week, and so
on. It doesn't do too much. Then they are told, "Now you have failed diet,
and we have to put you on these drugs for the rest of your life."
What I would like to see people told is, "OK, for some people small
changes are enough, because there is a spectrum of healthy choices. But for
you, if moderate change doesn't work, it just means you need to make bigger
changes than someone else."
Our genes do play a role. But they are more of a predisposition, not a death
sentence. If you are genetically unlucky, you just have to make bigger changes.
For most people, if the changes are big enough, under their doctor's care they
can reduce or get off these drugs. That's what makes our work radical. It gets
to the root of the problem.
Salt. If you've got high blood pressure, everyone blames salt. Does everyone need to restrict their salt intake?
Your body keeps a very narrow concentration of sodium. To do that, it can
either dilute it or excrete it.
Most people who eat too much salt just pee it out. But when you have high
blood pressure, it starts to damage the kidney and that makes it harder to get
rid of excess sodium. This causes the blood pressure to go even higher. It's a
People who have high blood pressure would be well advised to eat less salt.
How much they need to restrict it depends on how high their blood pressure is
and how much damage is done to their kidneys.
It's not as hard as it sounds to eat less salt. Yes, at first everything you
eat seems to need salt. Then, after a week or two, everything tastes fine. And
if you happen to go out to dinner, suddenly the food tastes too salty. Your
taste preferences will change if you just stick with it for a week or two.