Of all the health conditions that we routinely see, hypertension is one of the most common and thankfully one of the easiest to improve. Once you know where to look, it responds extremely quickly to simple dietary changes.
It’s an unfortunate thing about western medicine that the treatment of a symptom often results in a worsening of the overall health of the patient. While blood pressure medications reduce high blood pressure, many also result in negative impacts on other body systems and the whole person suffers.
Addressing hypertension through diet change however, reduces the severity of that single symptom while elevating the overall health of the patient. Most of our patients who follow this protocol for hypertension end up being able to come off of their blood pressure medication within between 2 and 6 months.
You should never stop a prescribed medication without first consulting with your doctor. For many medications there are establish dosing reductions that need to take place. Whenever my patients come off of their medications, it is always in coordination with their doctor’s office.
Here’s one patient’s experience:
L.M. had blood pressure that was routinely above 180 systolic. She was a former nurse so she knew how important it was to get her blood pressure under control and she diligently did everything her doctors told her. Unfortunately, her doctor wasn’t able to control it. He referred her to a Cardiologist. Her Cardiologist tried multiple medications with no change. He tried combining medications but still her blood pressure wasn’t changing. With all the usual mainstream options exhausted, she came to see me at the suggestion of her son who was also a patient. We made this simple intervention in her diet and within weeks her blood pressure was under control and remains there today. Her Cardiologist was in disbelief and actually angry with how quickly her hypertension resolved. I suppose that’s understandable after all his effort. It’s simple nutrition but surprisingly very few western doctors, Cardiologists included, receive comprehensive training in nutrition.
The good news is that this protocol can easily and safely be done for most patients. (As with most dietary interventions please consult your health care provider prior to starting. This is especially true if you suffer from a kidney or heart condition.)
Write down everything you eat and drink in a normal day.
Calculate the amount of potassium you get in that standard day. (Click the button below to download a form to help you find and track those numbers)
Download Form Here
Here’s another resource to find more potassium contents for different foods: https://nutritiondata.self.com).
Okay, let’s take a moment and talk about the science.
Sodium and potassium operate as a ratio. If sodium is too high relative to potassium, you’ll get hypertension, if your potassium is too low relative to sodium, you’ll also get hypertension. What’s important is the ratio between the two. When patients track their potassium at the start of this protocol I typically see numbers between 1,000 and 2,000 mg per day. That’s a big problem. The recommended daily allowance is between 3,500mg and 4,700mg. Not only are most people deficient, they are getting less than half of what is recommended! Since we don’t get nearly enough potassium to start with, in order to get the ratio of sodium to potassium to the point where it will reduce blood pressure we’d need to eat so little sodium that it would actually cause new problems.
A National Academies of Science meta-analysis found exactly this. The sodium intake recommended for years by the American Medical Association was not only not helping hypertension, but was actually making people worse by causing increased triglycerides and increased inflammation.)
The obvious solution is to increase the potassium intake in order to normalize that sodium/potassium ratio (ideally, restoring it closer to what we are intended to get, what we’ve been getting in our diets going back millennia.) Once you increase your potassium your blood pressure responds rapidly. Studies have repeatedly shown this to be an effective strategy.
(I wrote about this subject at length in 2017 click here to read the entire article.
Okay, time for step three, but first, a crucial note:
Do not take potassium supplements!
There are two reasons for this, but most importantly, taking potassium in a supplement makes it possible, and even easy, to take too much. That can and will result in dangerous, possibly fatal heart arrhythmias for many people. Get your potassium only from food unless specifically recommended by your doctor!
The other reason is a little more complicated. Think about it this way: If you are that deficient in potassium, do you think there are other nutrients that you are also deficient in? Americans are notoriously deficient in magnesium, zinc, fiber and vitamin C just to name a few. When you get your potassium from whole foods, you will be increasing your intake those other nutrients as well. A lot of them (like magnesium and naturally occurring Nitric Oxide precursors) will also help to lower your blood pressure and protect your cardiovascular system.
Okay, ready for the fun part?
Now, using the form, shoot for between 3,500 and 4,700 mg per day. You’ll notice that a lot of the foods that are highest in potassium are fruits and vegetables. What’s helped a lot of patients navigate this is to buy as many single serving fruits and vegetables as will fit into the vegetable drawer of their fridge, think carrots, oranges, bananas, celery, pears, apples, bell peppers, plums, and peaches. Whenever you’re hungry for a snack just grab another piece of fruit. Shoot for having 4 servings of fruits and vegetables as snacks each day then have a serving with each meal. That will bring you to 7 servings for the day. Not bad, and on average you’ll be up to between 2,500-3,500mg of potassium already. Add in the starches with your meals - (especially good sources are quinoa and potatoes) and you’ll be right around your target.
Follow this protocol exactly as described and within between 2-5 days you should already notice a change and within 2-4 weeks you should be able to easily maintain your blood pressure in the normal range.
Enjoy watching your blood pressure drop, and enjoy the feeling of being in charge of your own health!
What is Functional Medicine?
When something is off about your health, what does your doctor do? Most doctors (thankfully not all), will prescribe a medication based on the symptoms you are having: lisinipril for your blood pressure, a statin for your cholesterol, maxalt to prevent your monthly migraines, metformin for your elevating blood sugars, ambien for your sleep and, just for good measure, some prozac for your depression and fatigue. That’s an awful lot, but surprisingly, it’s not uncommon.
This system of medicine doesn’t view you as a person with a complex physiology. You’re a list of symptoms. It isn’t healthcare because that would be focussed on improving your health. This is management of your illness. It should be called sick-care.
Functional Medicine approaches it differently. It doesn’t look to treat your symptoms. It looks for an underlying common root that connects your symptoms. This takes careful investigation. Your practitioner needs to untie the knots that have been formed from poor diet, genetics, emotions, exposure to toxins, and other factors. We may order additional blood tests beyond what your doctor orders so we can identify not just what’s wrong, but why. The myriad symptoms can usually be traced back to a few basic root causes.
A situation like that described above can occur when poor diet and lack of exercise cause sugars to accumulate in the body. The biological systems within our bodies are interrelated and delicate. Everything’s connected. When one system is damaged that spreads dysfunction into other systems. The rising sugars damage the machinery of energy production. Cholesterol and triglycerides also increase as the body looks for places to store all the extra energy. As enzymatic function is impacted by excessive blood sugars, inflammation starts increasing too. Nutritional deficiencies from poor diet drive inflammation even higher. As your blood sugars are driven up and down throughout the day by sugar rich snacks, your stress hormones are pushed up and down too. You start to experience alternating cranky periods followed by energy crashes. The rest of the hormones get thrown off by this roller coaster of stress hormones. As a result you feel exhausted all day, but can’t sleep at night. Menstrual cycles can be affected, causing menstrual migraines. Even though these are all different symptoms, you can see that they all can be traced back to a few issues in the fundamental functioning of your body.
Your Functional Medicine practitioner will get you eating foods that will supply steady energy through the day so your metabolism can stabilize. A relaxation program and an adrenal support supplement can help to bring your wild stress hormone swings back to normal. Adding a high quality multi-vitamin will replace the nutrients that have been lost through poor diet. Lifestyle support such as relaxation techniques and refining your sleep habits would round out a successful functional medicine program for a patient like this.
All of your body’s systems are interrelated. If you don’t address these root causes of illness and disease then you are just covering up symptoms while the underlying health continues to erode.
I'm Kieran, clinician and founder at The Parani Clinic. I'm an acupuncturist, herbalist, and functional medicine practitioner for the past 10 years. I have a deep curiosity in health, biology, culture, medicine, history, and a healthy obsession with the pursuit of the perfect state of health.