The risks of having low blood pressure.
(and taking blood pressure medications)
Most people worry about high blood pressure, and with good reason as it portends numerous health risks, such as the possibility of an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Low blood pressure brings a different set of problems, such as reduced brain function and increased mortality risk. If the upper or lower number deviates by more than 10 from 120/80, it pays to be aware low blood pressure may be affecting your health.
Think of it like this.
The function of your blood pressure is to push the blood out of your blood vessels by permeating out of them to the rest of the body. High blood pressure is often a compensatory response to something that is going on in the body. If you cover up the end response of your body you can get other symptoms. Such as, a very common side effect of blood pressure medications is brain fog or mental “unclarity”. Which really makes perfect sense. Your brain is now not getting the blood (or oxygen) it needs to function, which equals……uhhhhhhhh? What?
As a side note I often find that in the elderly, if they have not taken care of themselves and their arteries are already starting to harden, this will lead to decreased permeability of the blood vessels. As a result, blood pressure goes up to compensate and get blood to the brain. If you lower blood pressure too much, you no think too much! ;-)
Blood pressure pushes blood through about 100,000 miles of veins, arteries, and capillaries in the body, carrying oxygen, nutrients, immune cells, hormones, neurotransmitters, and other vital compounds.
High blood pressure strains blood vessels. However, low blood pressure means not enough blood is getting to capillaries and tissues, particularly in your hands, feet, and brain. This deprives those tissues of sufficient oxygen and nutrients. You may have chronic nail fungal infections and cold hands and feet if so. These can also be signs of an immune system that is deficient as well. So it pays to check both.
Adrenal fatigue as a cause of low blood pressure
The most common cause of low blood pressure (other than taking blood pressure medications) in a functional medicine model is poor adrenal function.
The adrenals are two walnut-sized glands that sit atop the kidneys. They produce stress hormones and help regulate blood pressure. Many people today suffer from adrenal fatigue due to chronic stress. Other causes of adrenal fatigue are poor diets, low blood sugar, chronic infections, gut problems, inflammation, and unmanaged autoimmunity — all stressors.
Adrenal fatigue symptoms include chronic tiredness, low blood sugar, losing function between meals, getting sick all the time, and low blood pressure.
Part of the way that this happens is that with adrenal fatigue it is not uncommon for it to cause your potassium to go up to go up and your sodium levels to go down in the later stages, leading to even lower blood pressure. This is why sometimes I will recommend certain people with adrenal fatigue salt all of their food with liberal amounts of healthy salt (restrictions apply - primarily either sea salt or Himalayan salt). This is not for everyone but it can be a very effective means of increasing blood pressure so as not to contribute to the chronic cycle of the adrenal fatigue loop.
Orthostatic hypotension when you stand up
Orthostatic hypotension is a common type of low blood pressure that causes lightheadedness when you go from sitting to standing. This happens because the blood pools in the legs upon standing, slowing blood flow back to the heart and thus the brain. You will be diagnosed with orthostatic hypotension when the top number of your blood pressure falls by 20 and the bottom number by 10 upon standing.
Although orthostatic hypotension is a red flag you need to address your low blood pressure, it becomes more dangerous when it makes you faint or fall. Orthostatic hypotension is commonly found in those with low blood pressure and low blood sugar (hypoglycemic) but people with high blood pressure can have it too.
Functional medicine tips for low blood pressure
If you have signs and symptoms of low blood pressure and adrenal fatigue, consider an adrenal saliva test. This test measures levels of the adrenal hormone cortisol throughout the day. This gives you a more precise therapy target and follow-up testing will let you know if your protocols are on the right track.
Everyone knows a person with high blood pressure should avoid salt, but adding some good quality sea salt to your diet may help boost low blood pressure. In fact, you may be one of those people who craves salt.
A nutritional compound that can help raise low blood pressure is licorice root extract, or glycyrrhiza, which can extend the life of cortisol in the body and improve blood volume and electrolyte balance.
There are also certain herbs called adaptogenic herbs that will help you regulate healthy cortisol levels in the body. I have included a link to a few of my favorites: Cortisol calm by pure encapsulations, Cortisol Manager by Integrative Therapuetics, and of course certain essential oils such as Lavender, Rose, and Chamomile essential oils or tea.
Of course, it’s important to address what is causing adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is always secondary to something else.
One of the most common causes is eating a diet that causes low blood sugar. Eating a good breakfast, skipping sweets and sweet drinks, minimizing starchy foods, and eating regularly enough to sustain blood sugar are helpful strategies. Of course it is often a lot more involved than that though.
For more advice on supporting healthy adrenal function and blood pressure, contact my office.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, Be happy.