This easy diet change could help to significantly reduce your blood pressure

ATLANTA — Nearly half of Americans have high blood pressure, which puts them at increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

But new research in Georgia could save their lives and the lives of pregnant women. Researchers found an easy change in diet can make a big difference.

“Yeah, we were really excited. We were over the moon and could not wait,” said Barclay Lyles.

She and her husband George are new parents.

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Their son Cole was born healthy, but Barclay had serious pregnancy complications.

“We went in one day, and they checked my blood pressure like they normally do. And they checked it three times. And they noticed that it kept getting higher and nothing was dropping it,” said Barclay Lyles.

She had preeclampsia, a condition that causes pregnant women to develop dangerously high blood pressure which can cause their feet and hands to swell. It can also lead to liver and kidney damage.

“Definitely that was probably one of the tougher things was seeing her so stressed out. And like she said, it’s hard not to stress when you’re going through that,” said her husband George.

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After Cole was born, they thought things would improve. But the day after delivery, Barclay was rushed back to the hospital.

“All I wanted to do was enjoy my baby. And I couldn’t do that because I had to be worried about was I going to have some sort of seizure from this preeclampsia that has not gone away,” said Barclay Lyles.

It took six weeks before she was back to normal and off medication.

“Getting the all clear to go off medication was the greatest thing ever. I felt like I could finally enjoy my baby,” said Barclay Lyles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say preeclampsia happens in about one in 25 pregnancies in the U.S. It says high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects about 116 million Americans. Hypertension increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are the two leading causes of death in the U.S.

But the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University may have found a breakthrough to help lower the risk.

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“This is what we found,” said Dr. David Mattson, physiology chair of the Medical College of Georgia.

For years everyone thought salt was the leading cause of high blood pressure. But Dr. Matteson’s team discovered in mice that foods rich in animal protein like meat and cheese may play a key role in developing hypertension.

“An animal-based protein seemed to have a pro-disease or pro-hypertensive effect,” Mattson said.

He said diets high in salt also cause problems. But when they fed the mice plant-based diets it didn’t matter if it was high in salt or low the hypertension went down.

“They have an attenuation in hypertension, and kidney damage so, they end organ disease and they actually live longer,” said Matteson.

Researchers told Channel 2 Action News the findings have influenced their own food choices.

“I stay away from salt as much as I can and I’ve definitely increased my vegetable intake as well,” said Dr. John Henry Dasinger, a postdoctoral fellow at the Medical College of Georgia.

And you don’t need to go vegan or vegetarian to see the benefits. Just adding more plant-based foods helps.

“I won’t say I’ve completely eliminated animal-based proteins, but I’ve definitely become more conscious about it, about making sure that my meals are much more balanced,” said Dr. Justine Abais-Battad, a physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia.

Barclay Lyles said she loves meat and wouldn’t give it up, but she is willing to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“Adding more fruit into your diet actually isn’t a bad sounding thing at all,” she said.

Researchers said if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, talk to your doctor about your diet. But they recommend adding extra servings of fruit and vegetables.

They said it can have longterm health benefits for both mother and child.

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