Since 2003, people can be diagnosed with “pre-hypertension.” Until then, if your blood pressure numbers were approaching the “high blood pressure” range you may have been told that you were “borderline hypertensive.” You didn’t have high blood pressure (hypertension) but your values suggested that you should take action, which commonly consisted of lifestyle changes, not a new drug.

That wasn’t good enough so they invented a new disease, pre-hypertension. A news story in the Washington Post reported, “About 70 million Americans have pre-hypertension — blood pressure in the 120-139/80-89 range, measured in millimeters of mercury…“.

Some of those people stay that way and some advance to REAL hypertension. That isn’t particularly newsworthy. The real juicy stuff comes a little later in the story.

There’s a relatively new drug that’s used to treat hypertension (it’s still under patent so it generates the maximum profits for its maker). It’s called candesartan and sold under the brand-name Atacand (by AstraZeneca). Some researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School convinced the manufacturer to fund a study to establish that giving the drug to people with pre-hypertension would reduce their likelihood of developing real hypertension.

They randomly assigned about 800 people with pre-hypertension to take candesartan or a placebo for two years. After that, everyone took a placebo for two years. At the end of four years, 240 people who took a placebo the whole time had developed hypertension — nearly two-thirds of that group. In the candesartan group, 208 people had become hypertensive. The difference between the groups is not significant. Sadly, the researchers failed to prove that the drug stopped people from getting high blood pressure. That’s the purpose of the scientific method – and a failure or success rank equally in the long run.

That the test only compares the drug with a placebo. No mention is made regarding behavior changes that are known to reduce blood pressure. On the surface, the researchers hoped that candesartan would stop pre-hypertension from becoming hypertension – they perceived and outcome, but it didn’t materialize.

Maybe they actually believed their drug would help (I’ll give the benefit of the doubt – but, it seems naive). From AstraZeneca’s perspective paying researchers to show that your drug doesn’t work as you hoped would have been a waste of money. Like most drug makers, AstraZeneca would be most pleased if their drug was prescribed to a maximum number of people for the rest of their lives, not just a couple of years until they were cured.

In this case – ironically – the sponsor actually got the results that would benefit them well. The study proved that a drug – even candesartan – will not prevent the development of high blood pressure, which is inevitable and not preventable. The best outcome is that the blood pressure can actually be kept in a normal range with a drug – their drug, Atacand.

Non-Drug Approaches to Lower Blood Pressure

  • Don’t smoke cigarettes.
  • Lose weight if you’re overweight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes protein and healthy fats rather than grains, sugars, artificial sweeteners,or processed food.
  • Drink clean water.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake.
  • Try meditation, relaxation techniques, or biofeedback.