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How does starvation affect high blood pressure?

author image Joseph Pritchard
Joseph Pritchard graduated from Our Lady of Fatima Medical School with a medical degree. He has spent almost a decade studying humanity. Dr. Pritchard writes as a San Francisco biology expert for a prominent website and thoroughly enjoys sharing the knowledge he has accumulated.
How does starvation affect high blood pressure?
A nurse is taking a patient's blood pressure. Photo Credit megaflopp/iStock/Getty Images

Starvation is a type of malnutrition, which is caused by being deprived of food or eating food that is inadequate for your body’s nutritional needs. Not eating for a day or longer will cause starvation. Starvation and malnutrition have long-term effects on blood pressure, including causing your blood pressure to elevate.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition where your blood pressure is elevated to a level sufficient to cause you harm. The minimum blood pressure for hypertension to be diagnosed is 140/90 mmHg, MayoClinic.com explains. Generally both the systolic and diastolic pressure readings are important. However, it is typical for people over the age of 50 to have hypertensive systolic pressure even if their diastolic remains normal. Factors such as insufficient potassium and vitamin D in your diet elevate your risk of developing hypertension. Excessive stress will also cause your blood pressure to spike, albeit temporarily.

Malnutrition and High Blood Pressure

Starvation and malnutrition subject your body to both stress as well as potential potassium and vitamin D deficiencies. Your blood pressure is likely to increase as a result of these factors. A study featured in a 2004 issue of the “Nephron Clinical Practice” found that blood pressure increased in malnourished children, including those who recovered from malnutrition six years later. The study involved 172 impoverished children that were over the age of 2. Out of the 172 children who participated, 91 suffered from malnutrition, 20 had recovered from malnutrition and the remaining 61 were not malnourished. Blood pressure readings were taken from two of the three groups and compared against those of the group that was not malnourished. The results of the study found that both groups had blood pressure readings that were as much as 29 mmHg higher than the blood pressure readings of the control group. The findings support the assertion that starvation elevates blood pressure.

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Childhood Starvation Effect on Adult Blood Pressure

Exposure to starvation in childhood elevates your risk of developing hypertension later in life. The “European Journal of Epidemiology” published a study in 2007 that found that the majority of the men exposed to severe starvation between the ages of 6 and 15 died from ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, conditions associated with hypertension. The study examined the long-term effects of severe starvation and stress during the siege of Leningrad in 1941 to 1944 on surviving men and women that were at least 6 years of age at the time of the siege. The study involved almost 4,000 men and a little over 1,700 women. They were examined for potential cardiovascular problems in the 1970s and 1980s and until the study’s conclusion in 2005. The study found that the systolic blood pressure of the participants exposed to severe starvation was as much as 17.5 mmHg higher than their contemporaries who did not experience starvation during the time frame in question.

DASH Diet and Blood Pressure

Adhering to a diet such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet, is one way to manage hypertension as well as prevent malnutrition and starvation, MayoClinic.com notes. DASH is specially designed to help you lower your sodium intake and eat a variety of foods that have nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium. DASH has been known to start having positive effects on your blood pressure about two weeks after you start following the diet.

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