Low blood pressure? Here's why you might want to support your adrenals!
It is very likely that you or someone you know has experienced problems with blood pressure. Either low blood pressure and fainting, or high blood pressure with associated symptoms and risks. Nevertheless, blood pressure plays a key role in general health. This is because it governs the efficiency of one of the most important systems in our bodies- the cardiovascular system. Without sufficient pressure, we wouldn’t be able to “push” enough blood up against gravity into our brain and other major organs. This is called HYPOtension- low blood pressure. With severe hypotension, the brain tissue can become hypoxic (without oxygen). If it is hypoxic for long enough, its cells will start dying which may result in irreversible brain damage and possibly even death! This is called shock, and the severity of symptoms depends on the severity of hypoxia.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, hypotension is any blood pressure reading of 90mmHg/60mmHg. 90mmHg being the systolic blood pressure- the top number when reading blood pressure, and 60mmHg being the diastolic blood pressure- the bottom number when reading blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is the amount of pressure against the inside walls of your arteries when your heart is contracting- hence “pushing” blood out. The arteries are supposed to be elastic in nature so that they can handle the force generated by the contractions of the heart. Hence, during systolic contraction, the force causes the arteries to “balloon” in a way. As the blood continues through the artery, the “ballooned” segment relaxes like a recoiling elastic band, helping push the blood further through the arteries. This is called diastolic blood pressure. It is the pressure generated by the relaxation of your arteries after they’ve been “ballooned”.
On a Side note, ever wonder why we sometimes faint?
When our blood pressure drops low enough, our brain doesn’t receive enough blood and hence sends a message to the rest of the body telling it to “lie down flat”, so that it can receive blood. This is the reason why we should never lift someone’s head up if they’ve just fainted. If anything, you should be lifting their legs up to help bring more blood to their head with the help of gravity!
Okay back to Hypotension.
It’s important to remember that hypotension is not the disease, it is merely the symptom. There is often something in the background that is causing the low blood pressure. Potential causes for hypotension include:
- Side-effects from specific medications and supplements
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Excessive blood or fluid loss as in a chronic/major bleed or severe diarrhea/vomiting
- Poor cardiovascular health
- Poor diet/lifestyle causing excessive weight gain
- Specific organ pathologies such as the kidneys and liver damage
- Central nervous system disorder
- Family history or being athletic
Hypotension can result in various symptoms, but it’s also important to remember that not everyone is built the same. I have had patients who are considered hypotensive by medical standards, yet they are completely fine and experience no symptoms at all. I have also had patients who are considered HYPERtensive (High blood pressure) who experience hypotensive symptoms if we bring their blood pressure down to within the “normal” range. Hypotension generally becomes an issue to deal with if there are any accompanying symptoms that negatively affect activities of daily life, such as being frequently light-headed or frequently fainting.
The following are signs and symptoms commonly seen with mild forms of hypotension
- Heart palpitation
- Shortness of breath
Signs and symptoms associated with more serious causes for hypotension include the activation of the fight or flight response system. The following are signs and symptoms you might see:
- Cold clammy sweating with pale skin color
- Rapid shallow breathing
- Weak and rapid pulse
- Reduced or loss of mental faculties
Generally, serious hypotension can follow an acute event of severe blood loss, or a fluid loss such as in severe diarrhea and vomiting with food poisoning. This is called hypovolemic shock- Severe low blood volume hypotension.
As you can see there are various forms of hypotension. One specific one I want to touch base on today is Orthostatic hypotension, also known as postural hypotension. Orthostatic hypotension is when you get light headed, experience dimmed vision, and feel like you’re about to faint if you stand up too quickly.
Normally when we go from a lying down position to a standing position, gravity pulls down on our blood and our cardiovascular system is responsible for resisting that gravity. The body redirects more blood to the brain by constricting arteries that are further from the brain and dilating (widening) arteries closer to the brain, and the heart is instructed to beat harder and faster. This should all be done in a matter of milliseconds. If the body isn’t able to do this fast enough, we get that “head rush” feeling and need to take a few seconds to let our body catch up. The body generally does this through the nervous system, but also through specific hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone released from the cortex of the adrenal glands.
Cortisol helps us during the fight or flight response. It helps us deal with stress by increasing the strength and speed of our heart rate, boosting our energy, making us feel more alert, dilating our pupils so we could see better, and boosting our ability to focus. Aldosterone, also known as Anti-diuretic hormone, normally prevents our body from losing too much water through the urine, and hence keeps our blood pressure up. With chronic stress, the adrenal glands may become fatigued and hence don’t make as much cortisol/aldosterone or don’t make them as quickly as we need them to.
As a result, our general ability to deal with stress is reduced, though we can see symptoms even when not in a stressful episode, such as orthostatic hypotension upon standing. Adrenal fatigue is not to be confused with Addison’s disease, however. Addison’s disease is due to an autoimmune disease rather than adrenal fatigue being due to chronic stress.
A Naturopathic treatment for patients suffering from hypotension depends on the underlying cause. In my practice, I tend to see patients suffering from orthostatic hypotension due to adrenal fatigue more than any other cause. I often have a multidirectional approach to treating these patients.
From a physiological perspective:
Supporting the adrenal glands is crucial when dealing with adrenal fatigue related orthostatic hypotension. Also assessing for other possible contributing factors such as dehydration or potential chronic occult bleeding that has gone unnoticed, and treating them is crucial. The first thing to consider when supporting the adrenal glands is diet and digestive health. Not only do we need to make sure the diet is rich in macro and micronutrients essential for hormone production, but we also need to make sure that the patient is digesting, and properly absorbing these nutrients. Once that is established, we may supplement with specific vitamins and botanical formulations to support adrenal health.
From a mental-emotional and energetic perspective:
It is very important to ensure the patient develops and employs proper stress coping mechanisms to help reduce the physiological consequences of chronic stress. Whether it is by journaling, seeing a psychotherapist, working on developing their social network, or even just adding 5 minutes of meditation into their schedule once a day, taking measures to become aware of stressors and dealing with them properly is important in reducing adrenal fatigue.
Physical activity that is not strenuous but slow and includes deep breathing like Yoga or Tai-chi is great for relieving stress as well as nurturing the body.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture is also another treatment possibility to help rebalance the body and treat adrenal fatigue related hypotension.
There are certainly many avenues to take when attempting to treat hypotension depending on the underlying causes. However, it is important to seek professional medical help if you have been experiencing any symptoms relating to hypotension as they may be signs of a serious underlying health issue.
If you have a topic you would like covered, let me know in the comments!