Ketogenic Diets Effectively Lower Blood Pressure by Dana Carpender from the April 2013 issue of CarbSmart Magazine.
“You only lose water on that diet.” Tell friends or family that you’ve gone on Atkins, and chances are you’ll hear this from someone. Indeed, the idea is so entrenched that I heard a great story from a reader: She lost 120 pounds, then went for a checkup. Impressed, the doctor asked how she’d lost the weight. “Atkins,” she said. Came the reply, “You only lose water on that diet.” Since a pint’s a pound the world around, that would have been fifteen gallons of water. Uh-huh. Sure.
It’s nonsense, of course. A ketogenic diet shifts the body to burning fat instead of glucose, and burn fat it does, often a great deal of fat. That said, the initial quick weight loss – often as much as 5-10 pounds in the first week of a low carb diet – is, indeed, mostly water. Why?
Because high insulin levels signal the kidneys to retain sodium. With that sodium, you retain water. When you stop eating carbs and insulin levels fall, your kidneys start eliminating sodium properly* and with it the excess water. Voila, a five-to-ten pound weight loss.
What the nay-sayers never admit is that eliminating that excess water brings blood pressure down, often practically overnight. Indeed, when the Atkins diet was compared to the Zone, LEARN, and Ornish diets, Atkins lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number) considerably better than the other diets – and four times better than the Ornish diet. By the end of the study the Atkins diet lowered diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) twice as much as the nearest competitor, and more than six times as much as the Ornish diet. (For a great discussion of the results of this study, take a look at Dr. Michael Eades’ Protein Power blog.)
High blood pressure causes rampant destruction throughout the body, with heart failure, kidney damage, strokes, and dementia among the direst possibilities. Yet it is usually asymptomatic – the moniker “The Silent Killer” is apt. It is vital to reduce high blood pressure, and this effect of a ketogenic diet is one of the most beneficial.
One word of caution: If you are medicated for high blood pressure, it is vital that you be under a doctor’s supervision as you start your low carbohydrate diet. Your blood pressure may well come down so rapidly that you will need your medication adjusted, or even discontinued. You don’t want to pass out at the grocery store. Don’t fly blind.
* Because lowering insulin levels can restore proper sodium excretion, it is very possible for low carbers to need extra salt – my doctor has instructed me to get an extra two teaspoons of salt per day. Drs. Phinney and Volek suggest that if you notice you feel weak, tired, achy, or light-headed, you add a cup or two of salty bouillon or heavily salted broth to your daily diet. I like 1 cup of broth and ¼ cup of V-8, with 1 teaspoon of salt and a few dashes of Tabasco stirred in.
More Low Carb Recipes & Articles by Dana Carpender