Currently, intermittent fasting is popular for its health benefits. Research proves intermittent fasting can reduce your blood sugar, manage and help you lose weight, reduce your heart disease risk, and decrease inflammation.
Another potential benefit? Reducing your blood pressure.
Fasting’s Effect on Your Blood Pressure and Heart Health
What is blood pressure, exactly? Let’s do a quick recap of blood pressure and heart health.
Blood pressure refers to the force of blood flowing through your arteries. Arteries transport oxygen and nutrients to your cells and help eliminate waste. High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when the force of blood flowing through your arteries is consistently high, which causes your heart to work too hard to pump blood through your body!
It’s estimated high blood pressure affects 45% of American adults – that’s 108 million people! According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is diagnosed when readings are consistently at 130/80 or above. For reference, healthy blood pressure is around 120/80.
Unfortunately, high blood pressure can go under the radar for many years without any symptoms, which increases your stroke and heart attack risk. If you’re concerned, speak to your doctor. They will likely conduct routine screening tests during your annual visits.
Fasting and Blood Pressure
According to Dr. Dennis Bruemmer from The Cleveland Clinic, “fasting can help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, control diabetes, and reduce weight.” He points out these are all risk factors for heart disease, concluding that you can reduce your heart disease risk by targeting these four areas through fasting. However, he says there’s a reason to be cautious since fasting can lead to an “electrolyte imbalance, increasing your risk for heart arrhythmias,” – so always check with your doctor first.
Of course, fasting to lower blood pressure is backed by some interesting research. A study of 1422 people who fasted for 4-21 days had decreased blood pressure. Researchers hypothesize that fasting increases parasympathetic activity, also known as the “rest and digest” state, thus reducing blood pressure. However, participants only ate 200-250 calories per day, barely enough to sustain an average adult. Although results are promising, they may not be appropriate for the general population.
Nonetheless, another study of 32 adults found that those who followed alternate-day fasting decreased their blood pressure compared to non-fasters. They ate 400-600 calories on their fasting day and whatever they desired on the other days.
In 2018, Nutrition and Aging published another study of 23 adults on a 16:8 fasting regimen that found similar results in significantly lowered blood pressure. Other studies support the notion that there’s an association between fasting and reduced blood pressure.
Other Fasting Benefits For Your Cardiovascular System
Early research results on fasting are promising. Regardless of the direct link between fasting and blood pressure, we know fasting can be an effective tool to improve your overall health.
A review of 13 studies found intermittent fasting is beneficial for weight loss in healthy individuals, with minimal mood impact. It can also play a role in reducing LDL cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol that increases your risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease. Finally, fasting may help increase insulin sensitivity, which reduces your risk for Type 2 diabetes. All these factors lower your risk for heart disease!
Should You Follow an Intermittent Fasting Protocol?
Keep in mind that fasting isn’t appropriate for everyone. So, check with your doctor if you:
- Have a history of eating disorders
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Are over 65
- Are under 18
- Have a history of low blood pressure.
- Take medications. Speak to your doctor first.
Tips on Starting Intermittent Fasting for Better Blood Pressure
If you fast, you may end up eating less food overall – so make each bite count. Remember, fasting only works if you make wise food choices during your eating window. Meal planning makes this process easier!
Eat more heart-healthy foods
Healthy fats like salmon, olive oil, walnuts, and avocado all reduce your heart disease risk. Include at least one or two of these foods daily. So do fiber-rich foods – if you eat 30g or more of fiber per day, it can reduce your heart disease risk, diabetes, and certain cancers. Optimize your nutritional intake during your eating window by choosing more whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, nuts, seeds, fruit, and vegetables.
Eat more minerals
Magnesium, potassium, and calcium are three minerals that help lower your blood pressure. How? Magnesium and potassium help relax your blood vessels, lowering the pressure. Plus, if you’re worried about heart arrhythmias, eating enough potassium can help with prevention. Finally, calcium helps your blood vessels tighten and relax when appropriate.
Before hopping on the supplement train, focus on eating more of these foods. The good news? It overlaps with foods high in fiber and healthy fats.
- Magnesium: Pumpkin seeds, cooked leafy greens, potatoes, legumes, whole grains.
- Potassium: bananas, citrus fruit, cantaloupe, apricots, prunes, sweet potatoes, beets.
- Calcium: 2% or whole fat milk, Greek yogurt, cheese, fortified milk alternatives, canned salmon with bones, cooked leafy greens, almonds, firm tofu, white beans.
Lower your salt
Hold the salt, please! Salt contains sodium, a mineral that helps your body maintain fluid balance. When you eat too much sodium, your body will hold onto more water, putting more pressure on your arteries and heart. If you reduce your sodium intake, it can help reduce blood pressure and even reduce your risk of death associated with heart disease. If you feel like cutting out all salt and sodium – it is not necessary. You do need some salt for fluid balance. Try reducing ultra-processed and pre-packaged foods – it will significantly reduce your sodium intake automatically!
Opt for more homemade, whole foods-based meals instead. Watch out for condiments and sauces – look at the nutrition facts table. If it states that one serving is over 15% DV of sodium, that’s too high. Choose products with 15% DV sodium or less, and 5% DV or less is even better!
The Bottom Line
Should you adopt a fasting regimen to reduce your blood pressure? Early research is promising, but keep in mind these studies are done in a small number of participants. However, we do have enough evidence to confidently use fasting as a method to target high cholesterol, diabetes prevention, and weight loss – all of which will improve heart health! If you’re fasting, remember to incorporate heart-healthy foods in your daily meals. Enjoy!