One of the most vital nutrients for the brain is oxygen, and a seldom-mentioned but worthy suspect of poor brain oxygenation is low blood pressure. You would think as long as you’re breathing your brain is getting sufficient oxygen. However, while it may be getting enough oxygen to survive, it may not be getting enough to function at its peak.
As a matter of fact, vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease and is due to poor blood flow to the brain.
Healthy blood vessels and proper circulation are critical for a healthy brain. Don’t forget that your blood is carrying everything your brain needs to function: nutrients, hormones, neurotransmitters, and, most importantly, oxygen.
Unfortunately, many factors common today can lead to poor circulation and starve the brain of oxygenation. The most common perhaps is stress. Stress not only causes shallow breathing, but also keeps the body in a state of fight or flight when most of the body’s supply of blood, and hence oxygen, is shunted to the limbs, the heart, and the lungs.
Low blood pressure poses risks to brain health
Conventional medicine warns people to worry about high blood pressure, and with good reason as it portends numerous health risks. However, low blood pressure brings a different set of problems, and is completely neglected in the health care system.
You may not have increased risk for a stroke with low blood pressure, put you will have less than ideal brain function. Your brain is the most vertical part of your body, and you have lots of tiny blood vessels in your brain whose job it is to deliver blood to every neuron for ideal brain function. If your blood pressure is low the blood cannot get to these neurons very well. This reduces brain function and increases your risk for neurodegeneration.
You need adequate pressure in your blood for healthy perfusion, or the ability of blood to be pushed into you tissues. If your blood pressure is low, let’s say 90/65, there is not enough pressure for your blood, which carries oxygen and other vital nutrients, to be pushed into tissues such as your brain.
Low blood pressure is also often a sign of adrenal fatigue, chronic stress, autoimmunity, or chronic infection.
If you have low blood pressure you need to get it up as close as you can to 120/80. Don’t confuse low blood pressure with low resting heart rate. Low resting heart rate is a good sign of health and not the same as low blood pressure.
Salt and deglycyrrhizinated licorice to raise low blood pressure
Many westerners eat about twice the recommended amount of sodium of 2,300 mg, the equivalent to one teaspoon. But while excess salt has been found to be an inflammatory trigger in those with autoimmunity, if your blood pressure is low you need to immediately start salting your food. You might even consume pinches of sea salt during the day to increase your blood pressure (people with Hashimoto’s should avoid using iodized salt for this purpose).
For patients with low blood pressure, an extract from licorice root called glycyrrhiza may also be effective. This natural compound increases the hormone aldosterone, which helps you retain your sodium and can help raise low blood pressure. I personally prefer using a liposomal cream version with my patients, but you can use an oral licorice root extract.
You might see mention of using plain licorice root, but I prefer the glycyrrhiza version.
When you are working with salt and glycyrrhiza to raise your blood pressure, you will need to purchase a good automated blood pressure cuff and measure your blood pressure throughout the day and experiment with dosages. For most people, as soon as their blood pressure returns to normal levels they experience a dramatic increase in overall energy and brain function.
Address poor adrenal function to raise blood pressure
Many people can raise their blood pressure to normal by simply salting their food and supplementing with licorice root because their adrenal glands are not significantly impaired. Their bodies can make the necessary hormones, such as aldosterone, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.
However, those with poor adrenal function may not be able to raise their blood pressure very well until their adrenal glands function better. Remember, the adrenal glands produce the necessary hormones to help raise and normalize your blood pressure if it is low.
Adrenal adaptogens help the adrenal glands to regulate function, and are more effective in synergy with one another:
- Panax ginseng
- Siberian ginseng
- Holy basil leaf extract
- Rhodiola rosea
Phosphatidylserine is a compound that helps lower cortisol and also supports the areas of the brain involved in stress pathways:
- Liposomal cream that delivers 2000 mg a day of phosphatidylserine
Don’t forget that stress can lead to poor circulation and starve the brain of oxygenation. Adrenal adaptogens and phosphatidylserine can be very supportive of stress pathways in the brain and body.
Blood sugar imbalances affect blood pressure
One of the most common cause of functionally low blood pressure is a hypoglycemia lifestyle. The lifestyle of missing meals and having too many carbohydrates and not enough protein and healthy fats for meals depletes the adrenal glands. As a result they cannot produce sufficient hormones such as aldosterone to maintain healthy blood pressure and circulation.
Symptoms of low blood sugar:
- Craving sweets
- Irritability if meals are missed
- Dependency on coffee for energy
- Becoming lightheaded if meals are missed
- Eating to relieve fatigue
- Feeling shaky, jittery, or tremulous
- Feeling agitated or nervous
- Become upset easily
- Poor memory, forgetfulness
- Blurred vision
If you have low blood sugar, it is important to adopt these dietary and lifestyle habits:
- Always eat breakfast — it it’s hard for you, start small.
- Avoid sugars and excess carbs at breakfast; eat high protein and healthy fats.
- Prioritize protein and healthy fats with every meal and snack.
- Don’t over-consume caffeine, especially later in the day.
- Don’t skip meals.
- Make sure to eat every two to three hours.
- Get regular exercise.
- Prioritize good sleep habits.
Exercise helps regulate blood pressure
For my patients with high or low blood pressure, poor circulation, or lack of brain oxygen, I recommend they do high-intensity exercise for five to 10 minutes after waking up in the morning to raise their heart rate as high as they can.
This strategy has nothing to do with burning calories or losing weight. It is used instead to kickstart blood flow to the brain.
Many of my patients use the 7-Minute workout, but you can do any workout as long as it gets your heart rate up to where you can’t easily talk.
However, please exercise good judgment when doing exercise so as not to do more harm than good. Sprinting around the block or doing squat jumps may be perfectly appropriate for one person, while just increasing the walking pace may be enough for another.
For more in depth information about blood sugar, circulation, blood pressure, and brain health, please see my book Why Isn’t My Brain Working?