The fatal flaws in the government’s new blood pressure study

At the end of yesterday’s Reality Health Check, I mentioned a new study from Northwestern University that finally echoes what I’ve been saying for years when it comes to heart health. These researchers contend that, instead of drugs, the focus should be on healthier eating that includes an abundance of vegetables, as well as regular exercise.

Say it with me: “DUH!”

But obvious as this conclusion is to you and me, the Northwestern study helped reveal some glaring flaws in the new NIH SPRINT trial making headlines.

Because the “lifestyle recommendations” given to patients in that trial were almost laughable (if they weren’t so infuriating).

First was the usual rundown: Lose weight. Quit smoking. Exercise regularly.

And, yes, all of these factors have overwhelmingly proven to have a positive effect on mild hypertension. But the question here is, were the participants encouraged to really accomplish these goals? Who knows? Because they were not monitored, and the study doesn’t mention anything about any of them.

But it was two of the other “lifestyle interventions” that really prove just how out-of-touch the NIH still is when it comes to heart health.

The first was to reduce sodium intake.

Please! Have these scientists been living under a rock?

This is just another example of blindly following the accepted dogma without paying attention to any of the new research.

Honestly, you would think the people responsible for making health decisions for an entire nation would know that studies have shown salt only contributes to hypertension in about 5% of cases.

In fact, there’s solid evidence showing that limiting salt can be harmful for your health. Salt has simply become the latest innocent bystander, just like fat and cholesterol.

Which leads me to the next blunder in the NIH “SPRINT” study.

The second archaic recommendation was to follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which is so outdated it’s not even funny. The primary recommendations of the DASH diet are to reduce sodium intake (see above) and to eliminate saturated fat in favor of  polyunsaturated plain oils, and low-fat or fat-free products.

There it is. The double F word. (Which, if you ask me, is FAR worse than the “other” F-word.)

“Fat-free” is just wrong on so many levels. And it makes me wonder who’s actually conducting these studies. Oh, right, it’s the government.

Once again, these recommendations fly in the face of mountains of research published on fats over the last few years. All of which led researchers to conclude “current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.”

Saturated fat is only dangerous when it’s combined with sugar and refined flour. Which is the deadly combo you find in all those packaged, processed junk foods. Fat isn’t a villain as long as you’re getting it from high-quality sources that have been minimally processed. Organic foods like butter and free-range, grass-fed meat are ok.

But regardless of how outdated these lifestyle interventions were, ultimately it didn’t seem to matter.

Because the overriding mission of the NIH SPRINT study was to use drugs to get the numbers down.

The problem with this short-sighted goal is that there’s no way to know how many adverse outcomes these people will have down the road if they continue to take multiple medications. (Although I can venture some pretty frightening guesses.)

And if they suddenly stop taking them at some point in the future, what then? We’ll never know.

As I’ve said before, there are much better, safer ways to get your blood pressure under control. Starting, as the Northwestern researchers astutely pointed out, with cleaning up your diet. There are also other natural approaches — like taking amino acids and flaxseed that can help further those efforts.

If you’ve done all of that and your blood pressure remains high, then — and ONLY then — it might be time to consider a blood pressure drug.

If it turns out you do need medication, be careful about which one you take. Beta-blockers can slow your metabolism and bring on an asthma attack. Calcium channel blockers have been linked to breast cancer. And diuretics can literally dry out your body to the point where all the healthy minerals are depleted.

On the very rare occasion that I do prescribe a blood pressure medication, I almost always start with one of the angiotensin receptor blockers (or ARBs). I’ve found these to be the safest and best tolerated of all the hypertension drugs.

But, really, the vast majority of my patients — even the ones who come in with dangerously high blood pressure — never need them.

To learn more about my recommendations for keeping your blood pressure under control – and keeping your heart healthy overall — check out my special report The World’s Easiest Heart Disease Cure.


“Can Antihypertensive Treatment Restore the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease to Ideal Levels?: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study and the Multi‐Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Journal of the American Heart Association,” 2015; 4 (9): e002275 DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.115.002275

“Effects of low-sodium diet vs. high-sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterol, and triglyceride (Cochrane Review).”Am J Hypertens. 2012; 25(1): 1-15

“Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Annals of Internal Medicine 2014; 160(6):398-406

Click to access Intensive_BP_Control_in_SPRINT.pdf