June 11 (UPI) -- By modifying their lifestyle, including diet and exercise, people can lower their blood pressure just as effectively as with medication, according to a study.
Researchers studied the effects of adapting the Newstart Lifestyle program, which includes a vegan diet, daily outside walks, substantial quantities of water, adequate daily sleep and optional spiritual activities. The findings will be presented Monday at the American Society for Nutrition's annual meeting, Nutrition 2018, in Boston.
The idea of altering diet as part of treatment for high blood pressure is not a new one -- most people with hypertension, among other cardiovascular conditions, are advised to change their diet, and often also to get some exercise.
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2017 also found that a low-salt and heart-healthy diet may be just as effective as medication. The diet for that study, called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, has been endorsed by the American Heart Association.
The latest research involved the Newstart program of lifestyle changes.
"The Newstart Lifestyle program works quickly, is inexpensive and uses a palatable diet that allows for moderate amounts of salt and healthy fats from nuts, olives, avocado and certain vegetable oils," M. Alfredo Mejia, an associate professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich., said in a press release.
On its website, Newstart touts that half of all hypertensives are off medication and return to normal blood pressure. Also, 50 percent of type 2 diabetics who adopt the system are off insulin and medications in as little as 18 days.
The website includes testimonials from people getting off medication.
The researchers' study confirmed the results. They found half of people in the study achieved normal blood pressure --- the recommended 120 mmHg -- within two weeks and avoided the side effects and costs of blood pressure medications, despite lowering their blood pressure on average 14 percent.
Researchers evaluated data from 117 people with high blood pressure who had participated in the Newstart Lifestyle program at the Weimer Institute in California for 16 days in 2014. Their average age was 66.5 years old with a body mass index of 31.6 and blood pressure of 138 mmHg.
Blood pressure was lower in people who have several medical conditions but are healthy otherwise -- women and people with diabetes, who are obese or have high cholesterol levels.
The researchers plan to expand studies of the program to more people, and over a longer time period. They also want to see if the diet improves other health problems, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
The Mayo Clinic offers a set of lifestyle changes that can lower blood pressure and reduce risk of heart disease which are reminiscent to those noted in the new study, as well as in previous research on high blood pressure and diet.
Changes spotlighted by researchers at Mayo include regular exercise, healthy diet, limiting alcohol, smoking cessation, reduces caffeine and sodium and lower stress.
"If you successfully control your blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle, you might avoid, delay or reduce the need for medication," the organization has included in its recommendations.