WHAT REALLY CAUSES HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
Hint: I’m a nutrition coach.
What we used to think causes HBP: 1.) Salt! Salt is the devil and we must avoid it. 2.) Lack of exercise. What we know now: 1.) A diet of processed shit foods. 2.) A lack of nutrients and minerals.
My Blood Pressure is Just a Little Above Normal. Should I be Worried?
Probably. About 75 million American adults have hypertension. And even more have a pre-hypertensive condition. Hypertension is serious as it is a leading cause of heart disease (heart attacks, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias) and can lead to kidney failure, stroke, dementia, and more. Perhaps you didn’t know it causes dementia, but it’s because of high blood pressure’s effects on the vascular system in the brain. HPB also causes stiffening and hardening of the arteries and you get vascular problems in your legs and blood flow issues resulting in amputations and erectile dysfunction. Do I have your attention yet? Let’s play a game when every time you are in a fast food drive through, you think about amputations and erectile dysfunction. Good luck forgetting that idea.
Insulin Resistance and Obesity
The United States has an insulin resistance epidemic. We have 1 in 2 Americans that are prediabetic or have type 2 diabetes, 75% are overweight, and 42% are obese. They all have some degree of trouble regulating their blood sugar, which causes them to gain the dreaded belly fat. Fat has a metabolic effect that is toxic to the body by hardening the arteries, which is one important root of high blood pressure. And when you have sleep apnea, you’re just not getting enough oxygen to your body, to all your blood vessels, and particularly your brain. Your cortisol levels rise, which spikes systemic inflammation. This inflammation creates oxidative stress, which can lead to hardening of the arteries.
Does Diet Change Really Help?
Functional Medicine practitioner Dr. Mark Hyman created a reset program with nutritional and supplemental guidance for his patients. In his study he put 1,000 people through it and tracked their blood pressures. “It was incredible. Their blood pressures dropped an average of 20 points in 10 days. It’s better than medication results.” (Hyman) If a group this large can make change that fast, just imagine what you can do with your health in six months’ time.
Multiple studies report modest reductions in blood pressure in people who take fish oil supplements. There's some evidence that the beneficial effects of fish oil might be greater for people with moderate to severe high blood pressure than for those with mild blood pressure elevation. (Mayo Clinic) Omega-3 fats in fish oil help because it relaxes your blood vessels making them more pliable. Omega-3s are also a tremendous aid in reducing chronic inflammation in the body. Eating fish twice per week is recommended by most health practitioners. If you aren’t a fish fan, supplementation helps raise the Omega-3 levels in your blood.
Magnesium helps regulate hundreds of body systems, including blood pressure, blood sugar, and muscle and nerve function. We need magnesium to help blood vessels relax, and for energy production, and bone development. (Harvard) It's best to get the mineral from food, especially dark, leafy green vegetables, unrefined grains, and legumes. Forty five percent of Americans are deficient, but excess supplementation can cause diarrhea, so take to bowel tolerance.
Low potassium can be another reason why you have high blood pressure. Where do you get potassium? You get it from green, leafy vegetables. Potatoes, avocados, bananas, coconut water, prunes, apricots, and sweet potatoes. So, skipping vegetables is going to be extremely problematic. Normal body levels of potassium are important for muscle function, including relaxing the walls of the blood vessels. When the ratio of sodium to potassium in our bodies gets out of whack, high blood pressure follows.
What does the FDA say about salt? They recommend 2,300 mg/day (about one teaspoon) as a baseline. “Sodium is an essential nutrient and is needed by the body in relatively small amounts (provided that substantial sweating does not occur) to maintain a balance of body fluids and keep muscles and nerves running smoothly.” (FDA.gov) Since the target demographic for this article is for healthy people living in Sunny San Diego, we assume you do some sweating! Or maybe you are just out running some errands in Florida but still sweating? Logic check: cold day on the couch = less need for salt. Hiking on a hot day = way more salt than you would want on your food for proper hydration.
“So, it’s not the salt that we personally add in our kitchen. It’s the salt that’s added in factories to processed food that allows huge amounts of intake of salt because how do they make junk ingredients taste edible.” (Hyman) Pick a natural sea salt or Himalayan pink salt over a processed salt with all the natural nutrients stripped out of it. You want as many foods as possible in their whole unprocessed state, salt included. Iodized table salt is processed to remove the natural mineral balance (potassium and magnesium), and will increase blood pressure more than natural sources of salt.
But, but, but, my doctor told me I need to eat less salt! There is a genetic group of individuals that do not process salt well and can cause hypertension with a lower sodium intake. Ask your doctor if you have been tested for this. “Patients with heart failure who ate a salt-restricted diet were 85 percent more likely to die or be hospitalized than patients who didn’t limit their salt intake.” (Hyman)
The final word on salt and processed food: Whole unprocessed foods contain very little salt. Let’s consider the humble chicken breast. But oh you can’t be bothered to slice that up on your own because that would take actual effort. So you get some deli sliced turkey instead. Well you just added 500 mg of refined salt and that’s before adding the cheese, bread, and mayo.
This is probably the most common conversation I have had this year. I find out someone is on acid reducers for heartburn, and they have no idea they are slowly becoming nutrient deficient. Why are PPI (proton pump inhibitors) or acid-blocking medications a problem? Because they inhibit acid production, which you need to absorb nutrients. “When acid-blocking drugs first came on the market, even the pharmaceutical representatives warned us how powerful these drugs were. They told us not to prescribe them any longer than 6 weeks and only for patients with documented ulcers.” (Hyman) If you have chronic ulcers or heartburn, see your doctor. If your doctor says it is okay to stay on these drugs long term, find a new doctor.
Chronic gut issues lead to inflammation, then you get a malabsorption of minerals and nutrients. “That’s when you don’t absorb vitamin D. That’s when you don’t absorb potassium. That’s when you don’t absorb your calcium. That’s when you don’t absorb your magnesium. Those are the things that can help regulate blood pressure.” (Hyman) Bloating and gas and diarrhea and constipation are all signs of gut issues that may lead to nutrient deficiency in the body.
Case study: Client has high blood pressure but is at a healthy weight and exercises regularly. Practitioner recommends trial removal of gluten and dairy (common allergens and gut irritants). Patient’s blood pressure drops to normal levels. Patient then tried to re-introduce gluten back into his diet, his blood pressure went back up. So, his food intolerance was driving the inflammation that was driving his blood pressure.
My High Blood Pressure is Hereditary
“If you say your genes are responsible for high blood pressure, you are mostly wrong. It is the environment working on your genes that determines your risk. In other words, it is the way you eat, how much you exercise, how you deal with stress, and the effects of environmental toxins that are the underlying causes of high blood pressure.” (Hyman)
Why Can’t I Just Take a Pill and Continue My Junk Shit Diet?
Conventional medicine typically treats hypertension with medications which is generally effective in reducing the risk of these complications. However, these medications frequently come with unintended side effects. New studies even show that more than half of patients are treated adequately and do not have their hypertension under control. Plus, medications are just masking the problem that could be prevented. Treat the underlying causes of your illness and watch your vibrant health return.
Please do not modify your dose of any prescribed medications without the supervision of your healthcare practitioner. Making drastic dietary changes can abruptly change the way your body uses medication, so please consult your physician.
This article is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice. Don’t be a dim wit.