As readers of this blog know, I started the Ketogenic Diet for basically 2 reasons. #1 was to stop being 400 lbs, which has turned out fantastic. The second reason was to lower my blood pressure and that has been a little tougher. The problem I have is my BP was SO HIGH at the beginning that while I have managed to bring it down about 50 pts, it’s still way too high. However 50 pts is 50 pts and with the news that Luke Perry just had a massive stroke because his BP was high (I am a big Riverdale fan) (UPDATE: He has since passed away) I am going to start a series detailing everything I have done to lower my blood pressure and maybe by the end of it, talk about some of the new experiments I am doing to try to lower it further. I believe more peple need to know how the Ketogenic diet lowers Blood Pressure.
By far, the most important thing I have done to control my blood pressure, and I believe it is the fundamental starting place for anyone wanting to control their blood pressure through more natural means instead of with (or possibly in addition to) pills, is the Ketogenic Diet. Getting rid of the sugar and grains was absolutely transformative for my weight, overall health and blood pressure. Before we look at exactly how a ketogenic diet lowers blood pressure, lets look at what blood pressure actually is first.
What is Blood Pressure?
Blood Pressure is the measure of force exerted by the blood upon the walls of the main arteries, which are the blood vessels that take blood away from the heart, with each beat of the heart. The blood pressure is expressed as 2 numbers, the systolic pressure over the diastolic pressure in millimeters of Mercury or mmHg. It will look like 120/80 mmHg, for example.
The Systolic pressure is the maximum force of the blood exerted when the heart beats. The Diastolic pressure is the lesser force exerted by the blood between heartbeats.
What is the Optimal Blood Pressure?
There have been some recent changes to blood pressure guidelines. While the optimal BP of 120/80 hasn’t changed, in years past high blood pressure, or Hypertension, was anything over 140/90. In 2017, those guidelines were changed to say that anything over 130/80 mm Hg is now considered high. It should be noted that these new guidelines were not without controversy as it has been suggested by many that the driving factor in these changes was to increase prescriptions for blood pressure medications.
Controlling your blood pressure is important because, in the words of the 2014 guidelines from JAMA, “Hypertension is the most common condition seen in primary care and leads to myocardial infarction, stroke, renal failure, and death if not detected early and treated appropriately. ” In other words having high blood pressure puts you at risk for a host of other diseases and health problems.
In one randomized trial, 2 groups of people with high blood pressure were given one of two treatments, a standard treatment that kept their Systolic pressure at less than 140 mm Hg and an intensive treatment that kept their systolic under 120 mm Hg. The trial was stopped early because of the overwhelming evidence that the group that had the lower BP because of the intensive treatment had far better outcomes than the group with the standard care. In fact one prediction model suggests that for every 10% drop in BP, an additional 14,000 deaths per year could be prevented.
How a Ketogenic Diet Lowers Blood Pressure
There is a famous study from 2007 called The A to Z Weight Loss study that looked at Atkins, Zone, Ornish and Learn diets and studied their effect on not only weight loss but Blood Pressure as well. This was a 12 month study where “Participants were randomly assigned to follow the Atkins (n = 77), Zone (n = 79), LEARN (n = 79), or Ornish (n = 76) diets and received weekly instruction for 2 months, then an additional 10-month follow-up”. To the surprise of probably no one that follows this blog, not only did the people on Atkins lose about double the amount of weight as the other participants but the people on the Zone, Learn, and Ornish diets had statistically identical weight loss, suggesting that whatever factors separated those diets, when it comes to weight loss only the carb count matters.
The results for the group following the low carb diet were clear. “Parallel to the group changes in weight, the decrease in mean blood pressure levels was largest in the Atkins group at all time points. At 12 months, the decrease in systolic blood pressure was significantly greater for the Atkins group than for any other group. For diastolic pressure, the only significant pairwise difference at 12 months favored the Atkins over the Ornish group.”
In another study printed in the Annals of Internal Medicine, “Clinically significant long-term reductions in blood pressure and reduced risk for hypertension can be achieved with even modest weight loss. ” in other words, if a Ketogenic Diet is effective for losing weight, it will also be effective for lowering blood pressure as those 2 variables seem to be connected.
In another study by Dr Eric Westman, participants were put on either a Ketogenic Diet or a Low Glycemic index diet. This study is particularly interesting because both groups are limiting carbohydrates but the ketogenic group’s carb intake was low enough to force the participants into a state of ketosis. After 24 weeks, both groups experienced a drop in blood pressure but the ketogenic group had a bigger drop. In systolic pressure the low glycemic group dropped 10.7 points on average but the ketogenic group dropped 16.6 points. In diastolic pressure, the low glycemic group dropped 5.6 points while the ketogenic group dropped 8.1 points. Again these numbers suggest cutting any amount of carbs from your diet drops blood pressure and the more carbs you remove, the greater the drop in blood pressure.
In yet another study from the Annals of Internal Medicine, “Over 24 weeks, systolic blood pressure in the low-carbohydrate diet group decreased by 9.6 mm Hg (CI, −13.3 to −6.0 mm Hg), diastolic blood pressure decreased by 6.0 mm Hg (CI, −8.0 to −3.9 mm Hg), and pulse rate decreased by 8.9 beats/min (CI, −12.1 to −5.8 beats/min).”
What Should You Do?
To be clear, I am not a doctor. I am just someone who has been obsessively studying this subject for years because my own health is on the line. I can tell you from personal experience that switching to a Ketogenic diet dropped my high blood pressure about 40 points (Magnesium supplementation dropped it another 10-15 points but that’s a story for another day.) It was studies just like the ones talked about above that really convinced me I was on the right track. If you haven’t done so already, if you have high blood pressure or are obese, I beg you to start the Ketogenic Diet and see how it works for you. You can find everything you need to know about this way of eating on our FAQ page here, and get free Ketogenic Meal Plans sent to you by signing up for our mailing list here.
Most importantly, if you have any questions or concerns, or if you just want to talk to someone who has been eating this way for a while, leave a comment below. It may take a day or two but I will always get back to you. Thanks!