According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 American adults (about 70 million people) have high blood pressure.1 About half have uncontrolled high blood pressure, which increases your risk for a number of serious health problems, including:
Overall, men tend to have higher blood pressure than women, and while high-income nations have seen a significant decline in hypertension, prevalence in low- and middle-income countries, such as South Asia and Africa, is spiking. According to researchers, prevalence is “completely inverse” to national income.
Worldwide, high blood pressure is thought to cause nearly 13 percent of all deaths, or about 7.5 million deaths annually.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
According to medical physiology textbooks, as much as 95 percent of hypertension is called essential hypertension, meaning the underlying cause is unknown. From my perspective, this simply isn’t true. A number of factors have been identified as contributing to high blood pressure, including but not limited to:
• Elevated uric acid levels are also significantly associated with hypertension, so any program adopted to address high blood pressure needs to normalize your uric acid level as well
• Poor nutrition in childhood has been shown to raise the risk of high blood pressure in adulthood9
• Lead exposure
• Pollution. As your insulin and leptin levels rise, it causes your blood pressure to increase
• Insulin and leptin resistance. Air pollution affects blood pressure by causing inflammation while noise pollution asserts an effect via your nervous and hormonal systems.
Air pollution has been shown to increase your risk of high blood pressure to the same degree as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 30.
Living in an area plagued by constant noise pollution (busy city streets with night time traffic) has been shown to increase the risk of hypertension by 6 percent, compared to living in an area where noise levels are at least 20 percent lower.
Do You Have High Blood Pressure?
A blood pressure reading gives you two numbers. The upper or first number is your systolic blood pressure reading. The lower or second number is your diastolic pressure. For example, a blood pressure reading of 120 over 80 (120/80) means you have a systolic arterial pressure of 120 and a diastolic arterial pressure of 80.
Your systolic pressure is the highest pressure in your arteries. It occurs when your ventricles contract at the beginning of your cardiac cycle. Diastolic pressure refers to the lowest arterial pressure, and occurs during the resting phase of your cardiac cycle. Ideally, your blood pressure should be about 120/80 without medication.
If you’re over the age of 60, your systolic pressure is the most important cardiovascular risk factor. If you’re under 60 and have no other major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, your diastolic pressure is believed to be a more important risk factor.13
According to guidelines14,15,16 issued by the Joint National Committee (JNC) on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure in 2014, the following blood pressure classifications are used to determine whether you might suffer from hypertension:17
|Blood Pressure Classification||Systolic Pressure (mmHg)||Diastolic Pressure (mmHg)|
|✓ Normal||Systolic Pressure (mmHg): <120||Diastolic Pressure (mmHg): <80|
|✓ Pre-hypertension||Systolic Pressure (mmHg): 120-139||Diastolic Pressure (mmHg): 80-89|
|✓ Stage 1 Hypertension||Systolic Pressure (mmHg): 140-159||Diastolic Pressure (mmHg): 90-99|
|✓ Stage 2 Hypertension||Systolic Pressure (mmHg): ≥160||Diastolic Pressure (mmHg): ≥100|
If you’re between the ages of 18 and 59 without major health conditions, or if you’re 60 or older with diabetes and/or chronic kidney disease, conventional medicine recommends drug treatment if your blood pressure is at or above 140/90. In those over 60 who do not have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, the panel suggests delaying drug treatment until you’re above 150/90. According to the JNC panel members:21
“For all persons with hypertension, the potential benefits of a healthy diet, weight control and regular exercise cannot be overemphasized. These lifestyle treatments have the potential to improve BP control and even reduce medication needs. Although the authors of this hypertension guideline did not conduct an evidence review of lifestyle treatments in patients taking and not taking antihypertensive medication, we support the recommendations of the 2013 Lifestyle Work Group.”22
While recommending diet and exercise is a step in the right direction, the panel didn’t take it all the way. In my experience, even stage 1 and 2 hypertension can be successfully addressed with lifestyle interventions, to where drugs become unnecessary.
The key is to be sufficiently aggressive in your diet and lifestyle modifications. There are plenty of clinical success stories that vouch for this stance.23 That said, if you have seriously elevated blood pressure, it would be wise to be on medication to prevent a stroke while you implement these lifestyle changes.
Key Lifestyle Strategies for Lowering Your Blood Pressure
In summary, here are several suggestions that can help lower your blood pressure naturally.
✓ Address insulin and leptin resistance
As mentioned earlier, high blood pressure is typically associated with insulin resistance, which results from eating a diet too high in sugar. As your insulin level elevates, so does your blood pressure. Insulin stores magnesium, but if your insulin receptors are blunted and your cells grow resistant to insulin, you can’t store magnesium so it passes out of your body through urination.
Magnesium stored in your cells relaxes muscles. If your magnesium level is too low, your blood vessels will constrict rather than relax, and this constriction raises your blood pressure.
Fructose also elevates uric acid, which drives up your blood pressure by inhibiting the NO in your blood vessels. (Uric acid is a byproduct of fructose metabolism. In fact, fructose typically generates uric acid within minutes of ingestion.) NO helps your vessels maintain their elasticity, so NO suppression leads to increases in blood pressure.
If you’re healthy, and want to stay that way, the general rule is to keep your total fructose intake to 25 grams per day or less. If you’re insulin resistant and/or have high blood pressure, keep your total fructose to 15 grams or less per day until your condition has resolved.
✓ Eat real food
A processed food diet, loaded with net carbohydrates (non-fiber carbs like sugar, fructose and grains) and trans fat (margarines and vegetable oils) is a recipe for hypertension. Instead, make whole, ideally organic foods the focus of your diet.
Also remember to swap non-fiber carbs for healthy fats such as avocados, butter made from raw, grass-fed organic milk, organic pastured egg yolks, coconuts and coconut oil, raw nuts such as pecans and macadamia, grass-fed meats and pasture raised poultry. To learn more about healthy eating, please see my optimal nutrition plan.
✓ Mind your sodium to potassium ratio
According to Lawrence Appel, lead researcher on the DASH diet and director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research at Johns Hopkins, your diet as a whole is the key to controlling hypertension — not salt reduction alone.
He believes a major part of the equation is this balance of minerals — i.e., most people need less sodium and more potassium, calcium and magnesium. According to Appel:33 “Higher levels of potassium blunt the effects of sodium. If you can’t reduce or won’t reduce sodium, adding potassium may help. But doing both is better.”
✓ Load up on veggies
Juicing is a simple way to increase the amount of vegetables in your diet, and many NO3-rich veggies (which raise your NO level) are suitable for juicing, such as beets, kale, celery, spinach, carrots and more. Allicin-rich garlic, leeks, challots and chives also help improve your blood pressure, and are easy to add to salads and various dishes.
✓ Optimize your vitamin D level
To learn more about vitamin D testing, please see my previous article, “How Vitamin D Performance Testing Can Help You Optimize Your Health.”
✓ Boost your animal-based omega-3 intake
The best way to boost your omega-3 is to eat plenty of oily fish that are low in mercury and other pollutants. Good options include wild caught Alaskan salmon, sardines and anchovies. Alternatively, take a high-quality krill oil or fish oil supplement. As noted earlier, krill oil has certain advantages over fish oil, which is why I prefer it.
✓ Consider intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to normalize your insulin/leptin sensitivity. It’s not a diet in conventional terms, but rather a way of scheduling your eating in such a way as to promote efficient energy use.
Essentially, intermittent fasting means eating your calories during a specific window of the day, and choosing not to eat food during the rest. When you eat, your body reacts by elevating insulin and leptin.
✓ Exercise regularly
A comprehensive fitness program can go a long way toward regaining your insulin sensitivity and normalizing your blood pressure. To reap the greatest rewards, I recommend including high intensity interval exercises in your routine.
If you are insulin resistant, you’ll also want to include weight training. When you work individual muscle groups, you increase blood flow to those muscles, and good blood flow will increase your insulin sensitivity.
✓ Avoid smoking and other forms of pollution
Smoking is known to contribute to high blood pressure, as are other forms of air pollution, and even noise pollution. To address these, avoid smoking, consider using ear plugs during sleep if you live in a noisy neighborhood (provided you cannot move), and take steps to improve your indoor air quality.
✓ Walk barefoot
Going barefoot will help you ground to the earth. Experiments show that walking barefoot outside (also referred to as Earthing or grounding) improves blood viscosity and blood flow, which help regulate blood pressure.So, do yourself a favor and ditch your shoes now and then.
Grounding also calms your sympathetic nervous system, which supports your heart rate variability. This in turn promotes homeostatis, or balance, in your autonomic nervous system. In essence, anytime you improve heart rate variability, you’re improving your entire body and all of its functions.
✓ Address your stress
The connection between stress and hypertension is well documented, yet still does not receive the emphasis it deserves. In fact, it has been shown that people with heart disease can lower their risk of subsequent cardiac events by over 70 percent simply by learning to manage their stress.
Suppressed negative emotions such as fear, anger and sadness can severely limit your ability to cope with the unavoidable every day stresses of life. It’s not the stressful events themselves that are harmful, but your lack of ability to cope.