Dealing with hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure, can feel overwhelming, especially when you don’t want to rely on medication.
If you’re already aware of your condition, this likely isn’t the first article you’ve read. You may have already sought a doctors opinion or even been written a prescription to lower your blood pressure. Don’t give in yet…
Whether you have high blood pressure or want to take preventative measures, there’s good news: you can lower blood pressure naturally, without medication!
Some of these tips may sound unconventional. If your current physician doesn’t endorse them, we suggest seeking a second opinion from a doctor practicing functional medicine. Functional medicine practitioners are much more supportive of lifestyle changes that reduce the dependance on pharmaceutical medications.
What this article covers…
NOTE ON MEDICAL ADVICE: This article is not written to provide specific medical advice to treat any medical condition. That conversation needs to happen between you and your medical care team.
- Hypertension and what western medicine ignores
- What is hypertension?
- 10 tips to lower high blood pressure naturally
- Suggested (natural) supplements
Hypertension: What Western Medicine Overlooks
More than 120 million Americans live with high blood pressure. This condition puts you at a much higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and other serious health issues. Many people are taking prescription medicine to help regulate their blood pressure. Others don’t even realize their blood pressure is high and have no idea of the serious health risks.
High blood pressure is tied to a wide range of factors, but most of the Western medical community overlooks insulin resistance and focuses heavily on reducing sodium intake and prescribing statin drugs. If you have high blood pressure, don’t despair of eating unsalted food or taking drugs for the rest of your life. Sodium in its complex, naturally occurring form, is actually an ally, not an enemy (1). Once you see the role that inflammation and insulin resistance play in high blood pressure, the threat of sodium will largely disappear.
In this blog, we’ll be discussing some of the causes of high blood pressure and what you can do to address root causes instead of treating only the symptoms.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension or high blood pressure is a condition where your blood exerts sustained, excess pressure on the arterial walls as your heart pumps it through your body. Temporary spikes in blood pressure happen during periods of exertion or stress — known as “elevated blood pressure.”
The label of hypertension is applied when a person’s blood pressure is measured above 130/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury, the metric used in medicine and other fields of science and engineering). The top or high number is the systolic pressure (or pressure when your heart is pushing blood), and the bottom or low number is diastolic (or pressure between heartbeats).
The overall volume of blood in your system and the amount of blood pumped by your heart are two factors that affect blood pressure. Your body also has multiple interconnected systems that affect blood pressure, including your immune system and sympathetic nervous system.
It’s easy to get fixated on a single factor, such as sodium intake when assessing the cause of high blood pressure. And although Western medicine recommends lifestyle changes in addition to prescription drugs, most people rely on pharmaceuticals to do the heavy lifting.
Living with high blood pressure is a bit like revving the engine of your car for long periods — eventually, something can break. People dealing with high blood pressure have a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and other serious health issues.
The Causes of High Blood Pressure
Obesity, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, genetic predisposition, poor diet, and insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) can all contribute to high blood pressure. We believe that insulin resistance is one of the most significant (and treatable) conditions leading to high blood pressure that is rarely talked about. Before we talk about insulin resistance and how to improve it, lets define Primary and Secondary Hypertension.
Western medicine typically looks at the following risk factors as the primary causes of high blood pressure:
- Family history
- Physical inactivity
- Tobacco use
- Excess sodium
- Inadequate potassium
- Excess alcohol consumption
There are far fewer people suffering from secondary causes of hypertension.
These include renal (kidney-related) complications such as chronic renal disease, constriction of renal arteries, or renin-producing tumors. Secondary causes of hypertension can also come from issues with the endocrine system, such as thyroid complications.
Insulin Resistance: What is It?
Most people suffering from HBP are also insulin-resistant (3) or prediabetic. That means their cells no longer respond to the insulin hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin is the hormone that tells your cells to open up and process the sugar molecules in your bloodstream.
If your cells stop responding to insulin, high levels of sugar and insulin will accumulate in your bloodstream. During the stage of insulin resistance your pancreas produces more and more insulin to trigger the correct metabolic response.
Paul Saladino, MD, has hypothesized that rather than merely being a correlated condition, insulin resistance is the root cause of HBP. There is compelling evidence to support this hypothesis (4, 5, 6).
Dr. Saladino’s reasoning for the insulin-hypertension connection is based on some of the following observations.
- Insulin increases aldosterone levels in the blood, which causes the kidneys to retain sodium and water, leading to increased blood volume and, potentially, blood pressure (7).
- Insulin can thicken the endothelium, the inner lining of blood vessels, causing them to narrow (8).
- Insulin activates the cells responsible for nitric oxide production, which is the leading player in blood vessel dilation and relaxation. Therefore, insulin resistance can lead to overly constricted blood vessels (9).
- High insulin can cause an adrenaline response, contributing to higher blood pressure(10).
- Insulin can negatively influence blood lipids. An increase in insulin levels increases the concentration of small, dense pattern B LDL cholesterol particles, and this type of LDL is more likely to cause blockages and atherosclerosis (11).
- Insulin affects inflammation. High insulin leads to blood vessel damage, lipid deposits in blood vessel walls, and increased inflammation and plaque formation (12).
While the causal connection between HBP and insulin resistance hasn’t been tested and conclusively proven in clinical trials, many of the points listed above are backed by scientific studies.
At the very least, it’s safe to assume that by correcting your body’s metabolic function and restoring your insulin response, you’ll be reducing many of the factors that contribute to HBP.
10 Tips to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally and Improve Insulin Sensitivity
1. Eliminate Seed Oils
Processed vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed, canola, peanut, grapeseed, sesame, etc.) contain a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid called linoleic acid. Excess linoleic acid signals fat cells to grow. When the cells get too big, they release excess free fatty acids in the blood, which signals the rest of the body to become pathologically insulin-resistant; here comes metabolic dysfunction and pre-diabetes!
The rise of fasting insulin levels causes gluconeogenesis (the creation of glucose using precursor materials such as amino acids) to proceed unchecked in the liver, which means elevated glucose levels in the blood while fasting and after meals. This condition is known medically as diabetes.
As discussed earlier, excess insulin kicks off a chain of events that can lead to hypertension and associated complications such as heart disease. (13)
To be clear, linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid (meaning your body needs it), but the modern Western diet is drenched in processed seed oils, delivering far more linoleic acid than our bodies need or can metabolize safely.
To counteract the superabundance of linoleic acid, we suggest replacing seed oils with tallow, ghee, butter, and other nourishing saturated fats. This also means reading ingredient labels and avoiding most packaged foods. Industrial food production relies on seed oils because they’re cheap and abundant.
When dining out, you can request the kitchen to cook your food in butter or simply without vegetable oil.
2. Make Grass-fed, Grass-finished Ruminant Muscle Meat and Organs the Center of Your Diet
Incorporating unprocessed meats into your diet can be a delightful way to get the macro (protein, fat) and micro (vitamins, minerals, peptides) nutrients your body needs. We suggest you focus on meat and organs from grass-fed ruminant animals such as cattle, buffalo, goat, lamb, and deer.
When consuming poultry, eggs, or pork, stick with free-range or pasture-raised options. Industrial farms rely on cheap corn and soy-based feeds to raise and fatten their animals. Even “organically raised” animals may be fed organic corn and soy — resulting in a buildup of linoleic acid in their fat tissues.
3. Eliminate the Most Toxic Plant Foods
As discussed in Dr. Saladino’s book, The Carnivore Code, there are common plant components that contain defense chemicals that can negatively trigger the immune system. Typically the most problematic ones are leaves, stems, seeds, nuts, grains, nightshades, and legumes.
Sources of low-toxicity carbohydrates are honey, berries, avocados, olives, squash, or other seasonal sweet and non-sweet fruit. Organic white rice and sweet potatoes can be good options as well. Feel free to check out our animal-based infographic to see a breakdown of high and low toxicity plant foods.
4. Adequately Nourish Your Body
Eating individually-sufficient amounts of animal-based fat, meat, organs, raw dairy, fruit, and other carbohydrates helps hormones, energy, mood, immunity, and digestion thrive.
In addition to organs, consuming lots of protein in the form of sustainably raised meat is essential. You also need sufficient fat and carbohydrates to achieve the best nutrition possible. The following formulas will help you assess the right macronutrient ratios for your body type. Only you and your medical care team can decide the right ratios for your optimal health and happiness.
- Protein = range of 1-1.2 grams x ideal body weight
- Fat = 0.8-1 grams x ideal body weight
- Carbs = 0.7-1.2 grams x ideal body weight
Goal body weight = 150lbs
- Protein = 150-180 grams
- Fat = 120-150 grams
- Carbohydrates = 105-180 grams
Regarding your fat and carbohydrate intake, if your total activity level is on the lower end of the spectrum, you should experiment with the lower end of the range, but if you are more active, try the higher end of the range.
If you are insulin resistant, diabetic, or pre-diabetic, you may benefit from a 30-day trial of decreasing carbohydrate intake to around 50-75g per day. If you choose this approach, please consult with your physician to develop a plan that works for your unique medical needs.
We also suggest consuming bone broth made from bones and connective tissue. High-quality bone broth contains an important amino acid called glycine, which plays several roles in our physiology (14). Glycine balances out the amino acid methionine, which is appears at high concentrations in muscle meats. Glycine also functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain and supports relaxation (15)!
5. Prioritize Sleep and Recovery
There are very few things that are as simple, cost-effective, and beneficial as quality sleep. During sleep, our body builds, repairs, and heals from the various stressors of life. We suggest turning off devices with screens one to two hours before getting in bed (16), dimming the lights (Dr. Saladino’s podcast on light), being consistent with your bedtime, and aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep.
6. Move and Exercise
An inescapable key to health is physical stress. Good stress, such as exercise, triggers important processes and helps to regulate your hormones. Even the simple act of walking a few miles a day is beneficial. Ideally, you’re able to incorporate slow movement (like walking) with strength training and high-intensity movement like sprinting. Taking a short walk after meals can even help regulate your blood sugar (17).
7. Get More Natural Sunlight
Whatever you’ve heard about the dangers of sunlight, the reality is that our bodies use sunlight to produce vitamin D and nitric oxide (18), which also help regulate hormones, decrease blood pressure (19), and improve overall blood flow. Go outside, play in the sun, and enjoy nature while you’re at it. Daily sun exposure can also stimulate your natural circadian rhythm, promoting sleep (20), recovery, and muscle growth. It may even improve the alpha diversity of the gut (21)!
If you have limited access to natural sunlight, you can use a Sperti vitamin D lamp or spend 3-5 minutes in a tanning bed.
8. Use a Sauna
This environmental hormesis (your body’s response to something that can be beneficial at low doses and harmful at high doses.) enhances our bodies’ detoxification pathways, immune and cardiovascular systems, and muscle growth. Heat exposure expands our blood vessels, produces growth factors, and delivers vital nutrients to our tissues throughout the body. We suggest spending 15-20 minutes in a dry sauna (30-45 minutes in an infrared sauna) at least four days a week or every day if possible.
9. Practice Cold Therapy
Another environmental hormesis effect, low temperatures fortify your vasculature (arteries and veins) and your immune system. Low-temperature exposure also supports fat burning by shifting white adipose (fat) tissue to more metabolically active brown adipose tissue (22, 23). Start out by spending one minute in a cold shower at least three times a week and work your way up to five minutes. Or, if you have access to a cold plunge, you can follow a similar protocol (24).
10. Reduce Stress and Have Fun!
To create an ideal healing environment inside your body, you need to take the time to alleviate negative stress and practice self-care. You could include playing sports, journaling, family dinners, time in nature, hobbies, therapy, meditation, reading, games, yoga, spiritual rituals, religious services, volunteer work, or other practices you find meaningful. Doing things that help you feel happy to support the overall wellness of your body.
Supplements We Suggest
This is an extension of #2 (eat grass-fed meat and organs). The reality is that most people have a difficult time sourcing high-quality meat and organs. Others dislike the taste or texture of organs.
For people dealing with high blood pressure, the two organs we suggest for metabolic health are the heart and liver. These two organs supply a rich source of CoQ10, B12, riboflavin, and many other nutrients deemed fundamental to mitochondrial metabolism, energy production, and chronic inflammation reduction.
At Heart & Soil, we’ve developed supplements that preserve all the nutritional benefits of raw organ meats in an encapsulated form that is shelf-stable and easy to take. We suggest the following supplements for anyone dealing with high blood pressure or metabolic issues.
Endorsed and used by UFC Champion Georges St-Pierre, this supplement packs a powerful punch whether you’re an athlete or just trying to be more physically active. Warrior contains grass-fed, grass-finished, freeze-dried liver and heart. These two organs supply a rich source of CoQ10, riboflavin, anserine, carnosine, taurine, creatine, L-carnitine, choline, glutamine, iron, vitamins A, K2, B12, and folate. These nutrients are fundamental to mitochondrial metabolism, energy production, and the reduction of chronic inflammation.
Despite what you may have heard, consuming high-quality fat is essential* for the healthy function of many bodily systems. It improves the absorption of the fat-soluble nutrients found in our other supplements. It also improves energy production at the mitochondria level, enhancing fat utilization and improving metabolic function. Additionally, stearic acid—a fatty acid found in grass-fed suet—helps combat linoleic acid-induced obesity by signaling those same fat cells to shrink!
*If you’d like to learn how recent scientific research has confirmed the importance of fatty acids and saturated fats, check out this paper published in the journal Nature and this paper from the National Library of Medicine.
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