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Diet and Nutrition Tips for Pulmonary Hypertension

Updated on August 30, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Steven C. Pugliese, M.D.
Article written by
Kristopher Bunting, M.D.

Everyone can benefit from eating a healthy diet, but for people living with pulmonary hypertension (PH), proper nutrition is a powerful tool for managing the condition. Pulmonary hypertension is a type of high blood pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs. It can lead to symptoms, such as shortness of breath, and serious complications, such as heart failure. Specific dietary practices can help people with PH control symptoms and prevent or repair damage caused by disease.

What To Avoid If You Have Pulmonary Hypertension

Certain foods or eating habits can be problematic if you’re living with PH.

Sodium

The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day. However, people living with PH should try to aim for a lower sodium intake, less than 2,000 milligrams daily.

To cut down on sodium, try replacing salt with herbs, spices, and other seasonings when preparing meals. Avoid fast food and other processed or prepared foods with added salt. Check your food labels, too: You may be surprised by which foods contain added salt — as well as how much. These foods include:

  • Baking mixes
  • Pickled foods
  • Cheese and milk
  • Canned or prepared vegetables
  • Condiments
  • Sauces

Excess Fluids

Hydration is important, but too much fluid in the body can lead to edema (swelling) and difficulty breathing. Aim to have no more than two liters (about eight cups) of liquids per day.

Vitamin K (Sometimes)

Some people with PH should be mindful of their vitamin K intake, found in some leafy green vegetables and other foods. Although regular amounts of the vitamin generally pose no threat, too much vitamin K can interfere with the anticoagulant (blood thinner) Coumadin (warfarin). Talk to your doctor about which foods to avoid if you are taking a blood thinner as part of your PH treatment. Foods that are particularly low in vitamin K include:

  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Tuna

What To Eat If You Have Pulmonary Hypertension

With pulmonary hypertension, what you eat is just as important as what you avoid eating.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruit and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals needed to keep the cells in your body functioning properly. A type of PH called pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) has been linked with poor nutrient absorption in the gut, which can keep you from getting all of the vitamins and minerals in the food you eat. Malnutrition from a poor diet or poor gut absorption can lead to serious vitamin and iron deficiencies.

Eating fruits and vegetables that are rich in certain vitamins and minerals, however, can help your body get the nutrients it needs.

Foods High in Iron and Vitamins C and D

Vitamin C, vitamin D, and iron are all important nutrients for a person’s overall health. Moreover, vitamin D and iron deficiencies are more common in people living with PAH compared to the general population, according to research. There is also evidence to suggest these deficiencies may trigger or aggravate progression of the condition. Other research has found that iron deficiencies are also common in people with PH. Additionally, severe vitamin C deficiency can, on rare occasions, lead to PH. Finally, based on experimental models, vitamins C and D may even have a role in improving PH.

Vitamin C is found in fruits, including citrus and berries, as well as peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts.

Vitamin D is found in fatty fish such as salmon, as well as in foods fortified with vitamin D, including milk and breakfast cereals.

Iron is found in:

  • Legumes, such as peas and lentils
  • Tofu
  • Iron-enriched foods, like some bread, cereals, and pasta
  • Whole grains
  • Dark leafy vegetables
  • Fruit, especially figs, dates, raisins, and prunes
  • Red meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Tree nuts
  • Edible seeds

Supplementing Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Iron

If you are not getting enough vitamin C, vitamin D, or iron from your diet, speak with your PH specialist or other health care provider about taking over-the-counter vitamin supplements or multivitamins.

Home-Cooked, Fresh Foods

Eating and preparing fresh foods at home offers a one-two punch: It helps you monitor your salt intake, since you can control exactly how much salt you add. It also encourages you to eat more whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.

Other Diet Tips When You Have PH

There are steps you can take to control nausea and vomiting, which are common medication side effects. Avoid eating large meals, instead opting to eat smaller meals and snacks throughout the day. You should also avoid:

  • Eating greasy and fatty foods
  • Lying down immediately after eating
  • Doing physical activity after eating

Keeping your weight down may also be useful in managing your PH. Obesity can contribute to many health problems, including conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea that can worsen your PH. Keeping track of weight gain and loss also helps you monitor fluid retention.

Tips From myPHteam Members

Members of myPHteam have shared what works for them to stay on track with a healthy diet.

Some members turn to professionals to help them implement a nutrition plan that addresses all of their health needs. “I had an appointment with a nutritionist/diabetic specialist. I learned a lot. Now, just to put it to work. It sounded easy, but when you come home to fix the meal, it's tough,” a myPHteam member wrote.

Despite the challenges, making diet changes for the better is usually worth it. Many myPHteam members notice that they feel better when they’re able to stick with a diet that promotes a healthy weight. “I just feel better when I eat clean,” one member wrote. “I have lost some weight from eating this way and that definitely helps my breathing.”

“I really watch my salt,” another member shared. “Now they have low-sodium soups, tomato sauce, unsalted crackers, etc. It does help a lot with swelling.” Another myPHteam member added, “Eating a very low-salt diet helps me walk and move around better.”

Some members are able to maintain a healthy PH diet by finding substitutions for old favorites. One member shared, “Great night in the kitchen. Sweet and sour chicken over zoodles! Only 150 milligrams of sodium per serving. Totally satisfied my craving for Chinese food!”

Talk With Others Who Understand

By joining myPHteam, the social network for people with pulmonary hypertension and their loved ones, you can ask questions and share advice with more than 37,000 members who understand life with pulmonary hypertension.

What diet and nutrition tips do you have for living with PH? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on myPHteam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Steven C. Pugliese, M.D. is affiliated with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, serving as the director of the pulmonary embolism response team, co-director of the comprehensive pulmonary embolism program, and an assistant professor of clinical medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Kristopher Bunting, M.D. studied chemistry and life sciences at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, and received his doctor of medicine degree from Tulane University. Learn more about him here.

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