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Can Your Neighborhood Affect Your Blood Pressure?

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

can neighborhood affect blood pressure

Story at-a-glance -

  • Living in a high-crime area is associated with increased blood pressure
  • For each 20-incident increase per 1,000 residents, the risk of high blood pressure rose by 3%
  • Each 20-incident increase boosted the risk of being admitted to the hospital due to heart problems by 6%
  • Past research found that in a densely populated, high-poverty region in Chicago, recurrent exposure to high rates of violent crime was associated with obesity and elevated blood pressure
  • Areas with high rates of violent crime also have higher rates of death from childhood asthma
  • A consistent relationship has been found between exposure to violence in childhood and cardiovascular outcomes in adulthood, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and heart attacks

Where you live affects your physical health in myriad ways, from exposure to pollution and access to green spaces to levels of crime in your neighborhood. Researchers revealed in the American Journal of Hypertension that living in a high-crime area is associated with increased blood pressure.1

The findings were revealed when researchers from the University of Chicago analyzed blood pressure measurements from 17,783 adults during a surge in violent crimes that occurred in Chicago from 2014 to 2016.

“Our study demonstrates for the first time that rising violent crime rates are associated with an increase in patients’ blood pressure and healthcare system usage over time,” Dr. Corey Tabit, the study’s senior author, said in a news release.2

Each 20-Incident Rise in Crime Raises Blood Pressure Risk

The study was particularly interested in examining the association between rising rates of violent crime and high blood pressure. When the study began, the violent crime rate was 41.3 incidents per 1,000 residents per year. Three years later, crime had risen by up to 59.1 incidents a year per 1,000 people in some parts of the city, while in others it fell by as much as 31.1 per 1,000.3

The study found that for each 20-incident increase per 1,000 residents, the risk of high blood pressure rose by 3%. Each 20-incident increase also boosted the risk of being admitted to the hospital due to heart problems by 6%.4 There were differences in crime’s effect on blood pressure depending on the neighborhood’s crime rates as well.

In areas with the most violent crimes, each 20-unit increase in violent crime rate led to an 8% reduced risk of high blood pressure. But in areas with fewer violent crimes, each 20-unit increase was linked to a 5% higher risk of high blood pressure. As for why this occurred, Tabit told Reuters:5

“Interestingly, a larger increase in blood pressure was observed in people living in lower-crime areas than in people living in higher-crime areas … This finding may suggest that people with chronically high exposure to crime may become accustomed to the conditions in their neighborhood which may insulate them from the negative effects of further increases in crime.”

Violent Crime Linked to Heart Risks, Obesity

Past research has also found that in a densely populated, high-poverty region in Chicago, recurrent exposure to high rates of violent crime was associated with obesity and elevated blood pressure. “Compared with patients living in the lowest quartile, patients living in the highest quartile for violent crime had 53% higher adjusted odds of obesity … and 25% higher adjusted odds of elevated BP,” the researchers noted.6

Areas with high rates of violent crime also have higher rates of death from childhood asthma,7 and a consistent relationship has been found between exposure to violence in childhood and cardiovascular outcomes in adulthood, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and heart attacks.8 According to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine:

“The effects of violence may differ by life course stage. Healthy development of the brain and other organ systems can be derailed under chronic exposure to stress, making children particularly vulnerable to the effects of violence exposure.

These developmental effects can have long-term consequences on the development of chronic disease including CVD [cardiovascular disease]. Violence exposure in childhood has been associated with the development of cardiovascular risk factors in childhood, which persist into adulthood.

… Violence exposure in childhood and adulthood may also affect cardiovascular health through indirect pathways. Long-term effects of violence exposure have been noted in relation to depression, aggression, substance use, and risk-taking behaviors.

Many, though not all, children and adults exposed to violence develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Both PTSD and depression have been linked to obesity, hypertension, and adverse cardiac outcomes.”

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Controlling Blood Pressure Protects Your Brain

Another little-known connection is that between blood pressure and your brain. A study published in the August 2019 issue of JAMA concluded intensive blood pressure treatment helped limit the progression of cerebral small vessel ischemic disease — referring to common age-related changes in the small blood vessels in your brain — thereby lowering the risk for dementia.9

High blood pressure can lead to damage in your blood vessels, including small blood vessels in your brain that play a role in thinking and memory.10 By hampering the way blood is delivered to your brain, high blood pressure could have devastating effects on your brain health. According to Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association, in HealthDay News:11

“The brain is a very metabolically active organ in the body. It requires an outsized amount of oxygen and other nutrients … Because of that, there's a very, very rich blood delivery system in the brain. Anything that happens to compromise that is going to compromise the overall health and function of the brain."

About 75 million Americans, or 1 in 3 adults, have high blood pressure,12 and about 46%of those have uncontrolled high blood pressure, which increases your risk for a number of serious health problems, including not only heart disease and stroke but also dementia.

High blood pressure often causes no symptoms, which is why it’s sometimes called the “silent killer.” Regularly monitoring your blood pressure is a simple way to ensure yours is in a healthy range.

High blood pressure is generally defined as 140/90 mmHg or higher, while a reading of 120/80 mmHg to 139/89 mmHg is considered at risk, or prehypertension.13 Be wary of relying drugs to maintain healthy blood pressure, however.

Blood Pressure Medications Recalled

Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBs), which include valsartan and others, to treat high blood pressure have been the subject of recalls occurring in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, the FDA also issued a voluntary recall for valsartan after it was found to contain N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) (22 other countries had already issued recalls before the FDA took action).14

NDMA is a cancer-causing chemical that was formerly used to make rocket fuel and lubricants.15 In a statement released in March 2019, the FDA stated, “the nitrosamines found in ARBs may be generated when specific chemicals and reaction conditions are present in the manufacturing process of the drug’s API [active pharmaceutical ingredient], and may also result from the reuse of materials, such as solvents.”16

As for the extent of the risks involved for people taking ARBs, FDA scientists estimated that if 8,000 people took the highest daily dose (320 milligrams) of NDMA-contaminated valsartan for four years (which is how long the contaminated medications remained on the market), there may be one additional case of cancer.17 However, in an update released in August 2019, the FDA stated:18

“In reality, the vast majority of patients exposed to NDMA through ARBs received much smaller amounts of the impurity than this worst-case scenario, and, since not all ARBs are affected, it’s very likely that a patient taking an ARB for four years would not have always received one of the affected products.”

EFT to Address the Emotional Side of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure often has an emotional component to it, especially if you’re chronically stressed or anxious, as may occur if you live in a high-crime area. Stress management should be a regular part of your health plan no matter what, but particularly if you struggle with high blood pressure.

Using the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is one excellent suggestion for doing so. EFT involves a combination of tapping specific energy meridians on your body while voicing positive affirmations. This works to clear the "short-circuit" — the emotional block — from your body's bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body's balance, which is essential for optimal health and the healing of physical disease.

In the video above, you can follow along with Julie Schiffman as she guides you through an EFT session to help you recover from hypertension. It’s a good idea to try this out even if your blood pressure is only mildly (or occasionally) elevated, as the sooner you take steps to get your blood pressure under control, the less impact it will have on your overall health, including that of your brain, in the future.

What Blood Pressure Has to Do With Your Gut

Imbalanced gut microbes, known as gut dysbiosis, may also be linked to high blood pressure. In an animal study,19 researchers gave rats antibiotics for 10 days to wipe out their natural microbiota, then transplanted hypertensive microbiota into rats with normal blood pressure. Rats with high blood pressure, in turn, were transplanted with normal microbiota.20

The rats treated with hypertensive microbiota developed high blood pressure, while the transplantation of normal microbiota led to only a slight reduction in blood pressure among the hypertensive rats.

“We conclude that gut dysbiosis can directly affect SBP [systolic blood pressure],” the researchers wrote, adding that manipulating gut microbiota, such as via the use of probiotics or eating fermented foods, may be an “innovative treatment for hypertension.”21

A systematic review and meta-analysis of nine randomized, controlled studies also found significant benefits among people with high blood pressure who consumed probiotics in products like yogurt and milk.22

What’s more, in people who consumed probiotics for a week before starting a high-sodium diet, both their blood pressure and levels of the beneficial gut bacteria Lactobacillus remained within normal limits, provided the subjects consumed probiotics for eight weeks or more.23

“Products of the fermentation of nutrients by gut microbiota can influence blood pressure by regulating expenditure of energy, intestinal metabolism of catecholamines, and gastrointestinal and renal ion transport, and thus, salt sensitivity,” according to research published in the journal Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension.24

Natural Remedies for High Blood Pressure

To effectively treat and recover from high blood pressure, it's important to understand its underlying cause, which is often related to your body producing too much insulin and leptin in response to a high-carbohydrate and processed food diet. As your insulin and leptin levels rise, it causes your blood pressure to increase. Eventually, you may become insulin and/or leptin resistant.

A ketogenic, low net-carb, high-fat diet is far healthier and will allow your body to burn fat rather than glucose as its primary fuel. This has the sought-after side effect of improving mitochondrial function, which is foundational for disease prevention and optimal health.

Physical fitness is important for lowering blood pressure as well, and a variety of activities can be beneficial — even hula dancing.25 The Nitric Oxide Dump is another good option, which works by increasing nitric oxide (NO) production. NO supports healthy blood flow by helping your veins and arteries dilate. This, in turn, allows vital oxygen and nutrients to flow freely throughout your body.

The damage caused by high blood pressure gets progressively worse over time, so if you suspect yours is high, don’t ignore it. Take advantage of the many natural strategies available to keep your blood pressure in the healthy range.