Question: We always hear about the dangers of high blood pressure but my problem is low blood pressure, which makes me dizzy and tired. Is there anything that can be done for low blood pressure?
Answer: Over the years many of my patients have asked me about the significance of low blood pressure. This is a very interesting and surprisingly complex question, which merits some background information.
The official definition of normal blood pressure is around 120/80. Yet years ago, when I was in medical school, we were taught that the norm was dependent on one’s age, so that the systolic (top number) was normal if it was 100 plus the patient’s age over 90 or below. In fact, even though this way of looking at blood pressure is no longer considered valid, there has been no major study that I know of that shows a better prognosis in any measurement when the blood pressure is lowered with drugs to the level of 120/80 in elderly people.
Low blood pressure, on the other hand, has never been defined or been associated with an increase in any disease category. In fact, doctors today suggest that the lower one’s blood pressure the longer the life span and that those whose blood pressure doesn’t increase with age have some of the lowest overall all-cause mortality rates.
However, over the years I have had many patients who present with a picture of weakness that more times than not includes a significantly low blood pressure. By low blood pressure, I mean people whose blood pressure is less than 90/60. The typical person with blood pressure this low also complains of overall lowered vitality, sometimes allergies, almost always cold hands and feet and usually lowered libido. In serious cases low blood pressure can cause light-headedness, dizziness, weakness and fainting. All of these symptoms suggest a general overall lowering of one’s vitality. The low blood pressure is not the cause of this syndrome, nor is it by itself a sign of poor health, but in conjunction with these other symptoms suggests a state of low vitality.
So the question is what do we mean by low vitality and how does this correlate with these symptoms?
The regulation of blood pressure is a mysterious process which involves at least three mechanisms working in complex relation to each other.
- Receptors—called baroreceptors—which reside in various organs and detect changes in arterial pressure. These receptors adjust the pressure by altering the force and speed of the heart’s contractions, as well as the resistance in the arteries.
- The renin-angiotensin system (RAS), involves hormones secreted by the kidneys. When blood pressure drops, the kidneys compensate by activating a vasoconstrictor called angiotensin II. When the kidneys do not produce enough of this hormone, blood pressure will also be low.
- Aldosterone is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex, which stimulates sodium retention and potassium excretion by the kidneys. When aldosterone is increased, the body retains fluid retention and blood pressure is raised. Alternately, low aldosterone production will result in low blood pressure.
As I have discussed in many other articles the adrenal hormonal output is directly involved in many symptoms of low blood pressure, not only is low aldosterone production associated with low blood pressure, but low cortisol (an adrenal hormone) is connected with allergies and fatigue; low sex hormone production (produced in part by the adrenal glands) is also related to adrenal hormone output and low libido. In other words, the lowered vitality that one often sees related to low pressure is a direct symptom of low adrenal and kidney hormone production. This is the issue that needs to be addressed, not specifi- cally a strategy to raise the blood pressure.
The way I address this specific variation on low adrenal function is to suggest a nourishing traditional diet along with adaptogenic herbs and supplements. The diet should contain an abundance of healthy fats, organ meats, raw animal foods and lacto-fermented foods. These provide the vitamins, minerals and enzymes, that is the raw materials, that the body can use for hormone production. Specifically, the adrenal gland uses good fats including cholesterol to produce hormones. Vitamins A, B6 and C are cofactors in the production of these hormones and are abundant in the nourishing traditional diet. Vitamin A is available from cod liver oil; vitamin B6 from raw animal foods; and vitamin C is plentiful in lacto-fermented foods such as sauerkraut.
These patients also need to have a high mineral diet, especially in the form of daily soup broth and liberal amounts of Celtic or Himalayan salt. Sometimes if warmth is the main issue, extra fats and oils are needed, in particular one teaspoon of high-vitamin butter oil in addition to one teaspoon of cod liver oil.
It is imperative that the patient completely remove all trans fats from the diet. These interfere with adrenal hormone production and may also inhibit the function of the baroreceptors.
The adaptogenic herb I have found most useful in this situation is one of the forms of ginseng, such as Eleutherococcus or Korean ginseng. I like to use the high potency forms from Mediherb like eletherococcus tablets at a dose of one tablet, 2-4 times per day, or Rhodiola/ginseng (Rhodiola is another strong adaptogenic herb) at the same dose. I also add the standard process protomorphogen of the adrenal gland called Drenatrophin at a dose of one tablet, three times per day. With these simple interventions these symptoms can be lessened, the blood pressure raised to normal and the patients often feel much better.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2008.