When you run for the train or kick a ball around with your kids, your blood vessels dilate to allow for increased blood flow around your body. At least, that’s the way it should work.
What happens when you have high blood pressure or cholesterol
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage a layer in your vascular structure called the endothelium. It’s responsible for producing and releasing nitric oxide, which helps the vessels to dilate.
In some cases, when the endothelium is damaged, not only does it not release enough nitric oxide but the nitric oxide it does release reacts with the damaged tissue, causing it to do the opposite and contract instead – right when your body needs it to dilate.
If your blood pressure and cholesterol remain high for a number of years, damage to the endothelium can become severe enough to increase the risks of complications like angina, heart attack and stroke.
High cholesterol leads to a build-up of plaque within the lining of the endothelium. As plaque increases the lining can thin and rupture, allowing plaque deposits to flow to smaller vessels in the heart and brain. Having high blood pressure too means these deposits are even more likely to break free and cause serious issues.
What you can do about it
There is a way to promote endothelium function, and that’s by getting as much nitrate into your diet as possible.
Lucky for us, root and leafy vegetables are packed full of nitrates. The best sources to get nitric oxide from include beetroot, as well as arugula lettuce, spinach, celery and other lettuces.
It can be difficult to get enough nitrates – you need around 3.7mg per kg of body weight to make an impact (beetroot contains around 281mg per 100g), so as well as getting those on the plate, concentrated juices can help you make up the difference.
Studies show 250ml of concentrated beetroot juice per day over four weeks can reduce blood pressure levels in those with high blood pressure.
There’s strong evidence that these nitrate-rich foods and drinks promote vascular health and can have a positive impact on your blood pressure levels. Build these into your health plan alongside other good habits like picking up your activity levels and cutting saturated fats from your diet.
If you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, speak to your GP before making changes to your diet, especially if you're on medication.
Last updated Monday 25 April 2022
First published on Wednesday 30 November 2016