It’s official: The typical Western diet is a major driver of rising blood pressure as we age, not age itself as previously thought, according to research from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health published in JAMA Cardiology. The study revealed that members of the isolated South American Yanomami tribe, with virtually no Western dietary influences, typically have no rise in their blood pressure numbers from age 1 to age 60. (Their average blood pressure numbers were 95 [mm Hg] systolic over 63 diastolic, whereas in U.S. adults, the average systolic is 122 and diastolic 71.) On the flip side, a second tribe called the Yekwana, whose diet is now influenced by the modern world with more processed foods and salt, has seen an uptick in blood pressure among its aging members.

The researchers concluded that high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease, is more a consequence of the Western diet than an unavoidable side effect of aging.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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