High blood pressure affects millions of people and can lead to serious health complications like heart attack and stroke. Many people rely on medications to lower their blood pressure, but these drugs often come with side effects.
The good news is that for most people, adopting a low-carb diet can lower blood pressure back to normal levels without the need for prescription drugs.
The Flawed Link Between Salt and High Blood Pressure
For decades, we’ve been told that eating less salt will lower blood pressure. But where did this belief come from? It originated with a French physician in the early 1900s who noticed some of his patients who loved salt also had very high blood pressure. He hypothesized that high salt intake raises blood pressure.
This was a reasonable starting hypothesis, but the next step scientifically should have been to do controlled research in humans to confirm or refute it. Instead, in the 1950s-70s Dr. Louis Dahl did research showing that high salt diets raise blood pressure in rats. While this provided some supporting evidence, it did not prove the hypothesis, since rats are not the same as humans physiologically.
Controlled Research Does Not Support the Salt Hypothesis
The way the scientific process should work is that after an initial hypothesis, controlled research in humans is done to test it. If the bulk of the evidence does not support the hypothesis, it should be discarded.
Yet in the case of salt reduction for lower blood pressure, the hypothesis became so ingrained in the AHA recommendations that it persisted even when the human experimental research failed to back it up. Rigorous controlled trials unanimously found that lowering salt intake significantly does not substantially reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke.
At most, it may lower blood pressure by an insignificant 1-2 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). As the doctor notes, if you lower your blood pressure just 1 point, you likely wouldn’t even notice the difference in how you feel. Yet the AHA and other organizations continue to promote salt restriction firmly based on ideology rather than evidence.
Optimal Salt Intake for Humans
Research suggests the optimal daily salt intake for humans is between 3-10 grams per day. This is the amount that supports normal physiological function. So, eat salt according to taste – if food tastes too salty, you’ve had enough. If it doesn’t taste salty enough, feel free to add more.
He explains how all mammals instinctively seek out salt because our bodies require it. For instance, deer will walk miles to find natural salt licks. We developed this drive for good reason. Consuming adequate dietary salt is vital for health.
The Dangers of Extremely Low Salt Intake
In fact, research shows that very low salt intake can actually harm health in several ways:
- It stresses the body, activating the renin-angiotensin system and increasing calcitriol levels. This causes the kidneys to retain fluid.
- It increases insulin resistance, raising diabetes risk.
- It boosts sympathetic nervous system activity, increasing heart rate and constricting blood vessels.
- It may increase LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
- It can induce salt cravings that lead to binge episodes of high intake.
- Low sodium increases falls/fractures risks through drops in blood pressure and loss of muscle mass.
For all these reasons, severely limiting salt is not recommended. Our bodies need adequate sodium and have evolved efficient mechanisms to regulate blood pressure across a wide range of salt intakes.
The Flawed Guidelines for “Normal” Blood Pressure
Today’s blood pressure guidelines recommend aiming for under 120/80 mmHg to be considered normal. However, there is no evidence this target reduces risk of cardiovascular disease compared to the previous cutoff of 140/90 mmHg.
Yet drug prescriptions have soared as doctors push medications attempting to get patients below 120/80 mmHg. This leads to side effects and polypharmacy issues. Unlike the AHA, the American Academy of Family Physicians still defines under 140/90 mmHg as the normal goal.
How to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally
The natural, effective way to lower blood pressure in most people is to adopt a low-carb diet. This means limiting total daily carbohydrate intake to under 100 grams initially. Some people need to go lower, under 50 or even 20 grams per day, to see their blood pressure normalize.
Transitioning to a low-carb way of eating has profound beneficial effects:
- It leads to weight loss, which directly lowers blood pressure.
- It reduces insulin resistance, which plays a key role in hypertension.
- It decreases chronic inflammation, which damages blood vessels.
- It increases HDL while lowering triglycerides.
- It improves the function of endothelium, the inner lining of arteries.
- It reverses leptin and leptin receptor dysfunction, linked to high blood pressure.
SO, low-carb diets successfully return blood pressure to healthy levels in 80-95% of his patients. For the small minority who still need medication, the dose often can be lowered significantly.
One study he cited by a UK doctor found that simply reducing carbohydrate intake normalized blood pressure in all participants, allowing them to discontinue their medications. This removed medication side effects and monetary costs.
Tracking Progress on a Low-Carb Diet
People taking blood pressure medications should check their blood pressure at home twice daily after starting a low-carb diet. As carbs are reduced, blood pressure can drop rapidly. This is positive, but it also means medication doses likely need to be lowered to avoid complications like dizziness or fainting.
He advises his patients to record morning and evening blood pressure readings. That way when they feel lightheadedness setting in, they can call their doctor to adjust medication doses and avoid negative effects. It provides the necessary data for their physician to feel comfortable safely reducing or discontinuing medications.
Additional Benefits of Low-Carb Eating
While lower blood pressure itself is great, transitioning to a low-carb lifestyle provides many other benefits as well. Low-carb diets can:
- Lower triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol
- Reduce diabetes and hemoglobin A1C levels
- Lessen inflammation throughout the body
- Improve arthritis symptoms
- Enhance energy levels and endurance
- Boost mood and cognitive function
- Increase longevity and healthspan
Limit total carbohydrates to 100 grams per day or lower based on your individual response. Check your blood pressure regularly and consult your physician about adjusting medication doses. Just this simple non-pharmacological approach may get your blood pressure back into the healthy range.
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