Last updated August 12, 2017, originally published December 11, 2010
By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Diabetes and high blood pressure can be a killer combination, delivering a double body blow to your health. With diabetes on the rise - over half of us in the United States are predicted to be diabetic or pre-diabetic by 2020 - and high blood pressure one of the leading causes of heart attack and stroke, we'd better watch out. Is there a connection between diabetes and heart disease? What should you eat if you have both conditions?
According to the American Diabetes Association, as many as two out of three adults (66%) with diabetes in the United States also have high blood pressure.
If you have both high blood pressure and diabetes, what's the best way to manage your condition? Is there an ideal diet for both blood pressure and diabetes control? What should you eat to lower your blood pressure and keep your diabetes under control? Are there any foods or drinks you should avoid?
Are Diabetes and High Blood Pressure Connected?
Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose in your blood is too high. Blood pressure is the pressure of blood flowing through your arteries and is measured by two numbers - systolic pressure records the pressure when the arteries contract and diastolic pressure measure blood pressure when the heart rests.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, can be caused by many factors that narrow the arteries and prevent blood moving easily. If you have diabetes there are some special factors to watch out for - diabetes and high blood pressure go hand in hand for a number of reasons.
Diabetes increases your risk of developing high blood pressure because it makes the arteries more likely to harden and develop atherosclerosis - a condition that can cause high blood pressure. Diabetes also thickens your blood, making your heart have to work harder to push it through your blood vessels.The thickness of blood is called "viscosity" and scientists have found that diabetes increases blood viscosity by 8% on average.Viscosity is changed because diabetes causes a decrease in albumin and an increase in acute-phase proteins, according to a 1989 study conducted by Dr. D. E. McMillan from
University of South Florida College of Medicine.
There is no direct connection between blood pressure and blood sugar. However, there is an indirect connection. If you suffer from diabetes, you are also at higher risk for high blood pressure. The reason is that diabetes makes your blood thick, which increases the amount of pressure your heart must muster up to pump your blood through your blood vessels.
Sometimes diabetes damages the kidneys which causes diabetic nephropathy, a condition that also leads to high blood pressure.
The equation often works the other way round, too --- 2007 research by the Women's Health Study found women who have high blood pressure are 3 times more likely to develop diabetes.
How High is Too High?
If you have diabetes, your 'danger zone' for blood pressure is different to a non-diabetes sufferer. According to the American Diabetes Association and the National Institutes of Health, your blood pressure as a diabetic should not go above 130/80 mmHg. Why do you need to be extra careful to keep your blood pressure down if you have diabetes?
What are the Dangers of High Blood Pressure and Diabetes?
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease - heart attack or stroke - and kidney disease.
Twinned with diabetes, which is another risk factor that increases the risk of developing a cardiovascular disease, you need to be careful, especially if you add in any other risk factors such as smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, high cholesterol levels, family history of heart disease and older age.
According to the New York Presbyterian Hospital, if you have diabetes and high blood pressure you are four times more likely to develop heart disease than someone who does not have either of the conditions. High blood pressure can also worsen complications of diabetes, such as diabetic eye disease and diabetic nephropathy.
A 2002 study called the UK Prospective Diabetes Study, coordinated by the Diabetes Research Laboratories at Oxford, found diabetics with well-controlled blood pressure were 1/3 (33%) less likely to die from heart attack and stroke compared to those with poorly controlled blood pressure.
Keeping your blood pressure under control once you've reached a good blood sugar number is critically important for avoiding diabetes-related complications.
How can you use your diet to make a difference to your blood pressure and your blood sugar?