PAH and your diet

Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a condition in which the arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood to your lungs are constricted. If you have PAH, you might experience:

  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • nausea
  • difficulty breathing

You can take control of your PAH by making healthy choices and by staying dedicated to your new routine. What you eat is especially important. Some foods raise blood pressure, while others can cause weight gain.

One of the most common bits of advice you’ll hear from doctors is to lower your salt intake. Salt hides in many packaged, pickled, and canned foods, so choosing fresh ingredients can help limit the amount of sodium you consume. Try tasting your food before adding salt. Many people add salt out of habit, and a little goes a long way.

Bonus tip: If you’re worried about losing flavor, try experimenting with spices like cumin, and herbs like garlic.

Many people with PAH are placed on a two-liter fluid restriction, but talk to your doctor about the appropriate amount for you. Keep track of your weight to help you assess your proper fluid consumption. If you experience weight gain over the course of a day, you may be getting more fluids than you need. Avoid drinking too many fluids to prevent fluid buildup.

Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants, such as alcohol, is necessary for regulating your blood pressure. Try tea and coffee substitutes like chicory if you like a hot beverage in the morning. Carbonated juices and “mock-tails” (non-alcoholic cocktails) can replace a drink at the end of the day.

Bonus tip: Cutting back on stimulants can also help you sleep better.

Many people with PAH report that new treatments make them nauseous. To help ease this side effect try eating smaller meals and cutting back on food with high fat. Dry toast and plain, unsalted crackers can help you feel better when you’re queasy. Avoid sodas and ginger in your diet too.

Bonus tip: Be sure to make any dietary changes gradually so you don’t overwhelm your body.

A study conducted in 2009 found that PAH is aggravated when your body lacks iron. Try incorporating more red meat, beans, and dark, leafy greens into your diet. Your body will better absorb iron if you include foods rich in vitamin C such as tomatoes, bell peppers, and broccoli.

Bonus tip: Fresh citrus juices or a few slices of mango or papaya are good sources of vitamin C too, and a great addition to a healthy breakfast.

One study researched the effects of garlic on rats with PAH. The study found that a compound in garlic called allicin helps widen blood vessels and keeps blood pressure down. Add raw or cooked garlic to your dishes for this benefit.

Bonus tip: Make sure to eat garlic within an hour of chopping it or you won’t receive the benefits that allicin provides.

Though dark, leafy greens are a good source of iron, they also contain a considerable amount of vitamin K. Inconsistent intake of too much of this vitamin can affect how well blood-thinning medications work. This conflict might sound confusing, but it’s possible to find a balance and satisfy your body’s need for iron while monitoring your vitamin K intake. Ask your doctor how much vitamin K is safe for your diet. According to the NIH, the key is to keep your intake of vitamin K consistent from day to day, whether higher or lower.

It’s important to remember that each body is different and will react uniquely to changes in diet. If you’re going through a diet makeover, you might benefit from a food diary. It can help you stay on track and monitor how certain foods affect your body.

Your diary doesn’t have to be extensive. Jot down when you eat, what you eat, and how you feel after you eat. This will help you discover what makes your body feel its best, and help your doctor to better understand your condition.

Managing your PAH is critical to how you feel and could even save your life. It’s important to work with your doctor to develop a diet that is tailored to your specific needs.

It’s true that there are more dietary restrictions when you suffer from PAH, but that doesn’t mean that the quality of your meals need to suffer. In fact, you may find that your new diet, even without the caffeine, gives you more energy than before.