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High Blood Pressure: Why isn't Diet and Exercise Helping?

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

So you have high blood pressure.

Your doctor gave you the dreaded diagnosis and you took it seriously.

You gave up the salty chips and french fries. You started walking every morning.

You check every label to make sure all of your foods are low fat and you think back to the times you ate steak with teary eyed nostalgia.

At your 3 month check up, you feel confident that your blood pressure has become normal again.

You even think that the doc might even be able to lower the dose of your blood pressure medicine.

But your feeling of pride soon becomes one of despair as the doctor tells you that all of your efforts were in vain and instead of lowering your dose, he will have to raise the dose.

Maybe even put you on another blood pressure medicine.

You leave the office crushed and head to the nearest fast food restaurant to scarf down a large order of fries, extra salt.

Sounds familiar?

High blood pressure or hypertension is the dreaded diagnosis that seems to affect the majority of Americans over the age of 40.

What causes it? Can anything be done to prevent it? Will I have to take medication for the rest of my life? Why isn't diet and exercise working?

These are some of the questions that you have.

And you want answers.

High blood pressure can be scary, especially if it seems that you're doing everything right with no real sense of improvement.

About 75 million Americans have high blood pressure which comes out to be around 1 in 3 adults. This "silent killer" is aptly named because of the devastating effect it has on the health of those who suffer from it.

Complications for high blood pressure include poor memory, metabolic syndrome, stroke, aneurysm, heart failure, and heart attack.

In 2014, high blood pressure was the primary or contributing cause of death for 410,000 Americans. That's 1,100 deaths a day!

Clearly, high blood pressure is a serious problem and it's even more of a problem when you can't seem to get it under control especially after doing "everything right".

While eating a whole foods diet with an adequate amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, is ideal, it could be that your high blood pressure is not because you don't diet and exercise enough.

It could be due to magnesium deficiency.

What is magnesium deficiency?

Magnesium is one of the most common minerals in the body and it is necessary for over 300 enzymes in the human body to function properly [1].

These enzymes help the body to do many different functions ranging from helping to create ATP, the body's energy source, to influencing insulin signaling and proliferation.

A deficiency or even an insufficiency (a less than optimal amount) of magnesium in the body can cause catastrophic health issues.

Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is more common than you may think.

An estimated 48% of Americans are at risk of magnesium deficiency due to a magnesium intake less than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) which is 410 to 420 mg for men and 310 to 320 mg for women.

That's because the majority of Americans who eat a standard American diet (SAD) are not getting enough magnesium in their diets. When foods are processed to be shelf stable for long periods of time, magnesium is removed and the nutritional value is lessened.

Also modern farming practices have depleted magnesium from the soil which means that certain kinds of produce have less magnesium than it would have 100 years ago.

So what does magnesium deficiency have to do with blood pressure?

Remember that magnesium has a whole range of functions in the body?

Magnesium affects your blood pressure by affecting the tone of your blood vessels.

Think of high blood pressure like a clogged pipe in your home. You have to increase the water pressure to get it to go through the pipe. With high blood pressure, your heart has to pump harder to get through stiff and narrow arteries to get the blood throughout your whole body.

Magnesium can help with that.

Changes in the amount of magnesium outside of your cells helps to modify and release the production of nitric oxide (NO), a molecule naturally made by the body, which helps to vasodilate or relax the smooth muscle inside your blood cells [2].

This helps them to widen and increase circulation.

In fact, a dose of approximately 368mg/d of magnesium for 3 months, helped to lower both systolic (top) and diastolic (bottom) numbers of the blood pressure [3].

Magnesium also serves to reduce inflammation in the body. Magnesium deficiency is linked to increased inflammation which predisposes, or makes it easier, for your body to develop proatherogenic activity [4].

Essentially, the lack of magnesium makes your blood vessels prime ground for developing fatty plaques.

Furthermore, magnesium intake was shown to improve insulin resistance and hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, known risk factors that accompany high blood pressure [5].

If you find yourself doing everything right but your blood pressure doesn't seem to be cooperating, then you can always contact your naturopathic doctor to have your magnesium status checked to see if you would benefit from supplementation.

Serum magnesium levels aren't necessarily a true indication of your magnesium status since less than 1% of all magnesium in the body is in the serum. The majority of magnesium resides in the cells so a test that actually looks at the amount of intracellular (within the cell) magnesium is best.

Foods high in magnesium include: almonds, spinach, bananas, avocado, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chard, and dark chocolate (yum!).

While magnesium is indispensable when it comes to lowering blood pressure, there's no substitute for a diet loaded with fresh vegetables and fruits, high quality sleep, little stress, and lots of laughs.


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