Almost 20% of young adults have hypertension

Many people believe that it is normal for blood pressure to rise as we age, but this is not true.  Cultures whose diet does not contain excessive added fats, animal protein and salt, and is high in fresh, whole plant foods do not experience the age-related increase in blood pressure that we see in the Western world.1,2 These age-related elevations in blood pressure are not related to age itself – instead they are due to the cumulative destructive effects of a poor diet and insufficient exercise on the circulatory system over years and years. 

Hypertension (blood pressure at or greater than 140/90) is on the rise – between 1996 and 2006, hypertension prevalence in the U.S. increased by 20%.3 More recent results from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health have produced an estimate that 19% of young adults (24 to 32 years old) have hypertension.

Plus, more than half of these individuals were unaware that they had high blood pressure. This 19% figure is markedly higher than previous estimates, and was based on in-home measured blood pressure in 2008 in a population of over 15,000 participants.4,5 This elevated blood pressure will only progress as they continue to harm their blood vessels with salt and processed food. 

If almost 1 in 5 already have blood pressure higher than 140/90 by age 32, just imagine how much trouble this generation is in. First of all, the risk of death from heart attack and stroke begins to increase when blood pressure climbs over 115/75.6  Plus, high blood pressure is an important risk factor for hemorrhagic stroke, kidney disease, stomach cancer, dementia, osteoporosis, hardening of the arteries, arrhythmia, blindness, and enlargement of the heart.7-11

Many people in this age group, who were born between 1976 and 1984, have grown up on diets made up primarily of processed foods and fast food, and this study has revealed that their bodies are starting to show signs of the damage.  If they do not change their habits, they will be prescribed medication that they will have to take for the rest of their lives to control their blood pressure.  But this will not remove the cause of the problem, and will put them at risk for harmful side effects. And their poor lifestyle habits will continue to cause worsening of their cardiovascular disease. Of course, this outcome is avoidable with lifestyle changes.  This generation of young adults can enjoy a long, healthy life without blood pressure-lowering medication by starting to follow these guidelines now:

How to reduce blood pressure naturally

  • Avoid salt.   A population-wide 1200 mg decrease in sodium consumption has been estimated to reduce coronary heart disease cases by 60,000, strokes by 32,000, and heart attacks by 54,000 each year.  Plus, remember that salt does damage unrelated to blood pressure too.

  • Avoid added sugars.

  • Minimize caffeine and alcohol.

  • Focus preferably on plant protein rather than animal protein.12,13

  • Get plenty of minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants by eating primarily whole plant foods. For example, flavonoids from berries have a blood pressure-lowering effect, and nuts can enhance endothelial cell function, which promotes proper blood pressure regulation. Also, a dietary pattern high in fruits and vegetables is consistently associated with healthy blood pressure levels in observational studies.14-16

  • Exercise regularly and vigorously.

  • Follow my micronutrient rich dietary program and regain a normal weight.





1. Freis ED: Salt, volume and the prevention of hypertension. Circulation 1976;53:589-595.

2. Sever PS, Gordon D, Peart WS, et al: Blood-pressure and its correlates in urban and tribal Africa. Lancet 1980;2:60-64.

3. American Heart Association: High Blood Pressure Statistics. Accessed June 2, 2011.

4. Nguyen QC, Tabor JW, Entzel PP, et al: Discordance in National Estimates of Hypertension Among Young Adults. Epidemiology 2011.

5. Neale T: 1 in 5 Young Adults May Have Hypertention. MedPage Today. Accessed June 2, 2011.

6. Lewington S, Clarke R, Qizilbash N, et al: Age-specific relevance of usual blood pressure to vascular mortality: a meta-analysis of individual data for one million adults in 61 prospective studies. Lancet 2002;360:1903-1913.

7. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics: 2010 Update At-A-Glance. Accessed January 11, 2011.

8. Sonnenberg A: Dietary salt and gastric ulcer. Gut 1986;27:1138-1142.

9. Tsugane S, Sasazuki S: Diet and the risk of gastric cancer: review of epidemiological evidence. Gastric Cancer 2007;10:75-83.

10. Go O, Rosendorff C: Hypertension and atrial fibrillation. Curr Cardiol Rep 2009;11:430-435.

11. DellaCroce JT, Vitale AT: Hypertension and the eye. Curr Opin Ophthalmol 2008;19:493-498.

12. Elliott P, Stamler J, Dyer AR, et al: Association between protein intake and blood pressure: the INTERMAP Study. Arch Intern Med 2006;166:79-87.

13. Wang YF, Yancy WS, Jr., Yu D, et al: The relationship between dietary protein intake and blood pressure: results from the PREMIER study. J Hum Hypertens 2008;22:745-754.

14. Alonso A, de la Fuente C, Martin-Arnau AM, et al: Fruit and vegetable consumption is inversely associated with blood pressure in a Mediterranean population with a high vegetable-fat intake: the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra (SUN) Study. Br J Nutr 2004;92:311-319.

15. Fu CH, Yang CC, Lin CL, et al: Effects of long-term vegetarian diets on cardiovascular autonomic functions in healthy postmenopausal women. Am J Cardiol 2006;97:380-383.

16. Utsugi MT, Ohkubo T, Kikuya M, et al: Fruit and vegetable consumption and the risk of hypertension determined by self measurement of blood pressure at home: the Ohasama study. Hypertens Res 2008;31:1435-1443.


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Comments (11) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Dinneen Viggiano - June 8, 2011 3:24 PM

Terrific post (I hope you don't mind me re-posting with credit on FB!)
So many people think high blood pressure is all salt-related. Most people I speak with never heard that sugar consumption can skew your blood pressure. But as you point out, our heart's ability to pump often and pump well has a lot to do with other dietary habits, plus exercise and stress too.

RW - June 8, 2011 5:56 PM

The sodium content in prepared food is incredible.

For example, It's completely possible to make a tasty, low sodium "burrito bowl." Beans and rice, veggies, pico de gallo, maybe a bit of avocado. Sounds pretty good to me. However, if you go to a chain like QDoba or Chipotle, even if you vegan-ize their bowls, it's still about 1000 mg of sodium. Certain salsas make it even worse. If you go to a non-chain, it's pretty much impossible to tell how much sodium you are taking in. Soups are absolutely bonkers, even "vegan" soups.

Likewise, if you go to a grocery store anywhere outside of a major metro area, you simply cannot get no-salt canned beans or low-sodium breads like Ezekiel. The best you can get are "low sodium" beans, which still have 750mg of sodium per can. It's a shame, because if you have a Whole Foods, you can get no-salt-added canned beans in their 365 brand for less than the cost of canned beans at other stores like Wal-Mart.

Certain naysayers will point to studies "proving" a tenuous link between hypertension and sodium. But those studies are based on the RDA allowance of 2000mg of sodium per day. But the reality is that most people in the USA are eating 3-5 times that much sodium per day.

When I was first diagnosed with pre-hypertension, I analyzed my sodium intake and I was getting 7000-9000 mg of sodium per day. And I was eating pretty healthy compared to most of my family and friends...

Daniel - June 8, 2011 7:25 PM

Processed table salt, which is stripped of almost all minerals, should be avoided or limited, not unrefined sea salt. Unrefined sea salt is beneficial in many ways and should not have to be avoided at all. Sodium is an essential nutrient, and sea salt is an excellent and healthy source.

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - June 9, 2011 9:48 AM


In the future, please contact us at for permission to repost content.

StephenMarkTurner - June 9, 2011 10:22 AM

I agree that processed foods have absolutely mind boggling amounts of sodium. I have been training for a 10K run in the warm weather, and decided to add a little tortilla chips and salsa to the diet last week. Wow, lips burning, tongue feeling fuzzy, almost swollen.

I have often heard that 'sea salt' or 'Himalayan salt' is healthy, but I am not too convinced of this. I guess the idea is that these salts have other beneficial minerals besides sodium.

Gatorade used to have ads on the Canadian sports channels with young hockey players, measuring the large amount salt they lost during a practice, the message being to drink Gatorade to replenish the salt of course. That is a bit like saying I have to drink all this water because I sure do urinate a lot :-)


Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - June 9, 2011 3:51 PM

The small amounts of trace minerals in sea salts does not make them healthy - the excess sodium is not any less harmful in these salts. Plus, the trace minerals can be obtained in much larger quantities in natural plant foods rather than salt.

MIke Rubino - June 9, 2011 7:56 PM

If you want a good glimpse of how bad wwe are feeding our young in the USA go to any little league field that has games going on on and a food shack. The stuff served at these places in the name of food is mind boggling yet the kids are fed this stuff all season long , for every game ! Greasy hot dogs and hamburgers, french fries cooked in hot oil covered with cheap cheese, giant sodas, candy , its amazing that we dont have more young dying of heart attacks !

StephenMarkTurner - June 10, 2011 6:40 AM

I was wondering what a good number would be for a Nutritarian adult in their mid-fifties. Is 115/75 a good one, or is it desirable to be lower.

I confess I don't actually know mine. I will get a reading done though.


Kristin - June 20, 2011 8:23 AM

Dr. Fuhrman! I just read your book and started your diet last week!

I lost over 100 lbs. through calorie restriction, but am using your diet to lose the 30 lbs. I gained back over the last 4 years and to improve my health (digestive problems.) Thankfully, I have never in my life had high blood pressure, but it is a serious issue in my family.

Thanks for writing your book, because I really wouldn't have known where to begin eating healthier without it! (I think I ate pretty healthy before!)

BioEthics - July 4, 2011 7:51 PM

I am enjoying the diet, now on my 3rd week, and my weight is coming off, about 10 pounds so far. Here's my question: I'm 56, female, with a dx of vasovagal syncopy, and I have always had low blood pressure, and while omitting my former liberal salting of food has been easy, I get dizzy and my ears ring sometimes. (I do keep well hydrated with spring water.)
A few years ago, my doctor's advice was to slather on the table salt. He's not a particularly healthy fellow, himself, is all about pills, and I had to tell HIM why I refused to allow my husband to take statins. So, I also take HIS advice with a grain of salt. What is recommended for sodium or other mineral intake for managing low blood pressure?

Robert - September 6, 2011 10:08 PM

Before I retired I was eating out 5-6 times per week. Although I tried to order the healthiest meals possible that still must have represented a lot of sodium! During that time my BP was always 120/70.

Now that I am retired (in 2010), I eat out once per week and prepare all my meals from from natural, unprocessed foods. I add little, if any, salt to anything I eat. I walk 60-90 minutes, 5-6 times per week. My diet consists largely of fruits, vegetables, grains (modestly), legumes, nuts and modest amounts of meat (usually fish). My BP is now 140/90.

I've also increased my water consumption to 8 glasses per day. My alcohol consumption would be considered less than moderate. Quite a bit less in fact.

I was better off when I was eating out most of the time! :o(

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