Can cutting the carbs help?
Perhaps the most common reason people switch to a ketogenic diet is for weight loss. The relationship between ketosis and fat-burning is well documented.
But beyond the weight scale, what effect does this ultra-low-carb diet have on the body and on blood pressure in particular?
First, let's establish what blood pressure really is.
Blood pressure and obesity
Your blood pressure is a measure of the force exerted on the walls of your veins and arteries.
The two numbers you'll hear a doctor read are your systolic blood pressure (when your heart beats) and your diastolic blood pressure (in between beats).
An adult with average blood pressure will get a reading around 120 (systolic) / 80 (diastolic). If your systolic is above 130, or if your diastolic is above 80, you have high blood pressure.
You're far from alone if this is the case! Nearly a third of all Americans have high blood pressure.
Is a low-carb diet good for high blood pressure?
There are several blood pressure medications, but recent studies have shown that a low carbohydrate diet may be as effective or even more effective at lowering blood pressure.
Blood pressure medication is associated with potential negative side effects, so for those looking to regulate blood pressure without pharmaceutical help, the keto diet may be a good option!
How does keto help?
Obesity is a leading cause of hypertension (high blood pressure). There can be other causes, but for someone overweight looking to lower their blood pressure, shedding extra fat is probably the place to start.
Other common causes for hypertension that may supersede obesity:
- smoking cigarettes
- a sedentary lifestyle
- irregular sleep
- electrolyte imbalance
- a high-carb diet
- genetic predisposition
This explains why keto is a solution. By shifting the body into ketosis, a high-fat diet without carbohydrates, one forces the body to burn fat.
Keep at it, and the ketogenic diet can help you lose weight more quickly than other diets without ever restricting the number of calories you eat in a day.
Additionally, the ketogenic diet is associated with appetite suppression, increased energy expenditure, and lowered insulin levels (which causes more fat to burn), all of which contribute to fighting hypertension.
How keto compares
As a strategy for reducing blood pressure, the keto diet has proven more effective than other diets.
One study compared keto to three other diets: the Zone diet (30% carbs), the LEARN diet (60%) carbs, and the Ornish Diet (10% fat calories). Compared to these other diets, those who were eating keto saw as much as twice the improvement to systolic blood pressure.
Another study compared keto to a regimen of a low-fat diet and the blood pressure medication treatment Orlistat, a common drug for obesity and high blood pressure. The results? Blood pressure rose in the low-fat and Orlistat group, while the keto group improved.
What do cardiologists say about the keto diet?
You should always consult your doctor before any radical change to your diet. While most agree that the ketogenic diet, by reducing complex carbs from the diet, is typically a healthy choice, keto isn't for everyone.
Those who are pregnant or may become pregnant should not eat a keto diet. Those with chronic kidney disease should also avoid keto. If you already have low blood pressure, ketosis could lower your BP dangerously.
Our bodies aren't supposed to be in ketosis forever. This testimony by a cardiologist states that while keto can lower LDL (read: bad) cholesterol in the short term, these benefits are not maintained over the long term.
Is ketosis hard on your heart?
There is medical evidence that prolonged ketosis (longer than a few months), can have negative health effects. By depriving the body of carbohydrates, the keto dieter may also exclude the nutritional vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants contained in such foods as fruits, starchy veggies, and whole grains.
Going without these nutrients can lead to negative health outcomes, such as, counter-intuitively, heart disease. And any diet that is personally unmanageable can lead to "yo-yoing" on and off the diet, causing weight gain and other harmful effects.
If you have high blood pressure and don't want to take a medication (or wish to supplement pharmaceutical treatment), the ketogenic diet could be a great choice in conjunction with regular exercise.
Consult a medical doctor before radically altering your diet, and don't forget to check out Kevin’s keto recipes to jumpstart your eating plan!