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The Role of Gut Bacteria in Fertility and Estrogen Dominance

high estrogen levels fertility

I’ve talked before about the importance of optimizing your gut health before getting pregnant in order to promote a healthy pregnancy for both you and your baby.

But what about getting pregnant in the first place… Can your gut bacteria play a role in your estrogen production and fertility?

The science suggests that it very well might!

To understand why let’s take a closer look at infertility and one of its common causes: estrogen dominance.

What is Infertility?

When you hear the term “infertility,” you likely think of a person or a couple that cannot and will never be able to have children. In the medical world, however, infertility does not refer to a permanent state at all.

A diagnosis of infertility simply means that you have not been able to get pregnant after a year of normal, unprotected sex (1).

It’s actually a diagnosis that is far more common than you might realize. According to recent statistics, between 7% and 15.5% of American women experience infertility in any given year, and the majority of women (51.8%) meet the criteria for infertility at least once during their menstruating years (2).

Infertility & Estrogen Dominance

While there are many reasons a couple might have difficulty getting pregnant, among the most common are hormone imbalances (3, 4).

Abnormally high levels of estrogen is frequently implicated in infertility in both men and women. (5, 6, 7, 8).

Let’s look at the connection between high estrogen in both men and women and how it affects fertility.

High Estrogen in Women & Infertility

Most women need little reminder that our fertility depends on a highly-coordinated 28ish-day cycle in our hormone levels. Most of us also know that one of the key players in this hormonal dance is estrogen.

Estrogen has two very important jobs in the female menstrual cycle. First, it triggers a spike in the levels of a hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland in the brain. This spike in LH levels is what triggers the ovary to release a mature egg into the fallopian tube, where it can be fertilized (9).

After a successful ovulation, though, estrogen works together with yet another hormone called progesterone to prevent a second ovulation from occurring. Estrogen and progesterone do this by acting on the pituitary gland in the brain to make sure no more LH is made until the following cycle (or, if pregnancy occurred, until after birth). At the beginning of the next cycle (menstruation), estrogen and progesterone levels dip down, signaling to the brain that it is safe to produce another spike of LH (9).  

Constant high levels of estrogen, without a significant dip signaling the start of a new cycle, can trick your brain into thinking you’ve already ovulated, and prevent you from ovulating again (9). This is actually the logic behind hormonal birth control (the pill).

As you might imagine, this high level of estrogen can play a significant role in infertility.

High Estrogen in Men & Infertility

While we often think of estrogen as a female hormone, men also have healthy baseline levels of estrogen that are required for sexual and reproductive functions.

At moderate levels, estrogen promotes (and is necessary for) a healthy libido and the production of sperm in men. High estrogen, however, can have the opposite effect (6).

Too much estrogen in men decreases their libido. This is because, as in women, estrogen in men acts on the pituitary gland in the brain to decrease the production of LH. In men, this hormone stimulates the testes to produce testosterone. Without enough LH, there is a drop in testosterone, and low testosterone lowers male libido (6).

Too much estrogen in men can also decrease the production of sperm by the testes. This is due to the estrogen-induced decrease in LH and testosterone levels, both of which directly stimulate the testes to produce mature sperm (6).

Estrogen Dominance Symptoms

So how do you know if you’re at risk of having too much estrogen? Here are some symptoms of high estrogen levels to look out for.

High Estrogen Symptoms in Women:

  • Irregular periods
  • Breast tenderness or soreness
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Bloating
  • Increased mood swings
  • Increased symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Memory issues

High Estrogen Symptoms in Men:

  • Infertility
  • Sexual dysfunction (erectile dysfunction, low libido)
  • Enlarged breasts (gynecomastia)
  • Fatigue

If you’re worried you might have high estrogen levels, the best thing to do is to have your hormones tested by your healthcare practitioner. But knowing the symptoms of high estrogen may help you determine if a visit to the doctor might be helpful.

Estrogen & Gut Bacteria

Clearly, a buildup of estrogen is not optimal for you, or your partner’s, fertility. But what’s any of this have to do with your gut bacteria?

A lot, believe it or not! There are multiple mechanisms which link your gut bacteria to your estrogen levels. This concept is often referred to as the “estrobolome,” which is defined as the bacterial genes in your microbiome that have the ability to metabolize estrogen.

Gut Bacteria and Estrogen Reabsorption

Your gut bacteria are actually an integral part of the normal regulation mechanisms your body uses to keep estrogen levels normal.   

See, every day your liver pulls estrogen out of your blood and binds it to a sugar-metabolite called glucuronic acid. This sugar-estrogen complex is then mixed with your bile, which is dumped into your digestive tract to help with digestion (10, 11, 12).

Now, this sugar-estrogen complex is bigger than estrogen by itself and it can’t be absorbed through the intestinal wall very well. Because of this, much of the estrogen gets stuck in the intestines and is eliminated from your body via bowel movements (10, 11, 12).

And this is where your gut bacteria come in. They have special enzymes that are able to cut estrogen free from the sugar, called β-glucuronidases. The freed estrogen molecule can then be easily absorbed and re-enter your bloodstream (10, 11, 12).

This is a natural part of the process and the liver binds more estrogen to bile acids than needed with the knowledge that some of it will be coming back, thanks to your gut bacteria.

This balance can be upset, however, if you have abnormal numbers, types, or ratios of bacteria in your intestines (called dysbiosis) (13).

This is because some gut bacteria have β-glucuronidases that free estrogen better than others (14). With an unhealthy mix of gut bacteria, your microbiota can free too much estrogen, allowing much greater levels of estrogen to be reabsorbed back into your body than normal, which results in excess estrogen in the blood (13).

Gut Bacteria and Estrogen from Food

In addition to the role the gut microbiota play in balancing the levels of estrogen you make yourself (called endogenous estrogen), they also regulate how much estrogen and estrogen metabolites you absorb from food sources (called exogenous estrogen).

Some gut microbes have enzymes that enable them to breakdown phytoestrogens (from plants) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (from barbequed or fried meats) into estrogens (15, 16). These estrogens can then be absorbed through the intestinal wall, raising your blood levels.

In fact, studies show that in men and postmenopausal women, the number one source of estrogen for their whole bodies is intestinal absorption from their food (17). And dysbiosis is associated with higher levels of estrogen in these populations, presumably at least partially through increasing the breakdown of dietary molecules such as phytoestrogens and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (13).

Indirect Ways Gut Bacteria Affect Estrogen Levels

In addition to the direct ways dysbiosis links your gut health to higher estrogen levels, there are also several indirect links.

For example, an abnormal balance of gut bacteria has been strongly linked to constipation (18, 19), inflammation (20) and obesity (21), all of which may be able to further drive up estrogen levels in your blood (8, 22, 23).

How to Lower Estrogen Levels

If you have high estrogen levels and you’re looking to get your estrogen into the normal range, there’s a lot you can do from a dietary and lifestyle standpoint.

If you hope to get pregnant and your estrogen levels are too high, incorporating these diet and lifestyle changes may help improve your fertility.

Eat More Fiber for Lower Estrogen Levels

Research shows that one of the most beneficial things you can do to optimize your estrogen levels is increase your fiber intake.

A high fiber diet is associated with improved microbial health and decreased risk of dysbiosis (24). In fact, increasing the amount of fiber in your diet for just 2 weeks is enough to significantly improve the composition of your gut bacteria (25).  

Additionally, fiber may be able to directly bind the estrogen-sugar complex in the digestive tract, helping eliminate it from the body. In a study examining estrogen (re)absorption in women, there was a direct and significant relationship between a woman’s fiber intake, the size of her stool, and the amount of estrogen she was able to flush from her body (26).

How you choose to increase your fiber intake is up to you, but boosting your fiber intake by increasing the amount of fiber-rich foods in your diet, rather than through adding fiber supplements, may give you more bang for your buck.

This is because the dietary source of fiber — plants — are also rich in polyphenols (27, 28, 29). As I outline here, polyphenols can help boost the health of your gut bacteria, so plant-based fiber-rich foods treat dysbiosis to a one-two punch.

Supplement with Fiber

That said, for many people, incorporating a fiber supplement may be the easiest solution (in addition to a plant-rich diet, of course!). The best fiber supplement on the market (in my opinion) is Sunfiber.

Diet and Lifestyle Changes to Lower Estrogen

While fiber (and fiber-polyphenol-rich plants) is the most well established dietary tool to prevent dysbiosis and lower blood estrogen levels, other dietary and lifestyle changes may also be helpful. These include:

  • Exercising regularly (30)
  • Drinking enough water to stay properly hydrated, preventing constipation (31)
  • Taking a probiotic, which contains healthy gut bacteria that can help populate your gut with healthy microbes (32) (Want to know more about supplementing with probiotics? Check out my article on the topic here.)
  • Avoiding broiled, fried and barbecued meats that are likely to contain high levels of polycyclic hydrocarbons, which can contribute to high estrogen levels, especially if you have dysbiosis (33)

Healing Your Gut to Lower Estrogen

If you have a lot of digestive symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, or gas, you may need help beyond these simple dietary and lifestyle changes listed above.

This is because digestive symptoms can indicate that you have severe dysbiosis, or conditions like SIBO or parasites that need a more in-depth approach, including antimicrobials (or antibiotics) and other supplements.

That said, you can have imbalanced gut bacteria without any symptoms at all, so if you want to maximize your chances of getting pregnant or prevent estrogen dominance, it’s a good idea to test even if you don’t have digestive symptoms.

There are multiple tests to determine the health of your gut microbiota that can give you more precise information regarding your gut health. This can provide you with a roadmap to optimizing your digestive health and, in turn, your fertility.

If testing indicates you have dysbiosis, SIBO, or any other type of imbalanced gut flora, you’ll want to clear out that bad bacteria and balance your biome. If you need more help with that, check out my 8-week online program, Build Your Biome.

For women who have ever struggled with infertility, did you experience that taking care of your gut health through diet and lifestyle changes made a difference in your ability to get pregnant?

For women who are thinking about starting a family in the near future, do you think you will consider your gut health more now, before you start trying? Tell me in the comments below!

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Does Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Start with Your Gut Bacteria?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder affecting 4-10% of menstruating women (1, 2, 3).

At the heart of the syndrome is the abnormally high production of androgens (male sex hormones) by the ovaries.

High androgen production creates a characteristic clustering of symptoms that define PCOS, which include (4):

  • Excess facial and body hair growth
  • New or worsening acne
  • Irregular menstruation or lack of menstruation
  • Anovulation
  • Infertility
  • Development of multiple small fluid-filled cysts on both ovaries

In addition to serious reproductive symptoms, the syndrome is associated with a high risk of developing life-threatening chronic metabolic conditions, including insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease (3, 4).

Despite nearly a century of research (5), scientists have struggled to understand the mechanisms that lead to PCOS (3, 4).

What causes the ovaries to start making too many androgens?

How are changes in reproductive function linked to chronic diseases like diabetes or cardiovascular disease?

We simply didn’t know.

But the latest research indicates that we might finally be on the brink of identifying at least one of the root causes of PCOS.

It seems so counterintuitive that one can almost understand why it’s taken a hundred years to discover: PCOS might actually start in your gut (4).  

As crazy as that sounds, the evidence that PCOS is caused by poor gut health is fast becoming overwhelming.

Let’s look at what the research shows us, and how it implicates gut health in the development of PCOS.

PCOS AND LOW-GRADE INFLAMMATION

Research now shows that PCOS is consistently coupled with low-grade inflammation (4).

The most recent meta-analysis combining the data from over 30 studies found that women with PCOS have, on average, around double the level of key inflammatory markers in their blood compared to women without PCOS (6).

Why is this so important? Two reasons:

  1. It instantly implicated a role for gut health in PCOS
  2. It explained the link between PCOS and the risk for chronic metabolic diseases.

Around the same time, PCOS was linked to low-grade inflammation, there was a flood of new data coming in linking low-grade inflammation to poor gut health and poor gut health to chronic metabolic diseases (7, 8, 9).

The core concept that came out of the studies examining the connections between inflammation, gut health and metabolic disease is the idea that unhealthy bacteria in the gut can cause “leaky gut”, which then allows the passage of immune-stimulating molecules into the bloodstream (10).

Normally, your gut microbiota and your intestinal wall work together perfectly to form a solid barrier between you and the outside world, letting only tiny nutrient molecules into your blood.

When your gut bacteria become imbalanced, however, the walls of your intestine become “leaky”, allowing big molecules that should be kept out to get into your body. Since they don’t belong in your bloodstream, these molecules activate your immune system, causing chronic, systemic inflammation (4, 10, 11).

This chronic inflammation then leads to metabolic disease by inducing insulin resistance (12, 13). Insulin resistance is a condition where the cells of your body don’t respond to the insulin in your blood (14).

Loss of insulin signaling to your cells sets off a chain reaction that ultimately results in hyperglycemia (too much sugar in your blood), hyperinsulinemia (too much insulin in your blood) and hyperlipidemia (too much fat in your blood) (15, 16). All of these are symptoms of metabolic disease.

So, in one fell swoop, discovering that PCOS involved inflammation provided an explanation for why women with PCOS were more likely to experience insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and suggested that PCOS might involve gut health.

PCOS, LPS AND AGEs

So what are the molecules that pass into your bloodstream when you have imbalanced gut bacteria and leaky gut?

One of the main offenders is a group of molecules called lipopolysaccharides (LPS). As I’ve mentioned before, LPS are molecules that come from Gram-negative bacteria and they have been strongly implicated in inducing the inflammation associated with leaky gut syndrome. Study after study has shown that elevated LPS can lead to chronic inflammation and the development of a wide variety of chronic diseases, from diabetes and heart disease to autoimmune diseases and cancer (17).

To determine if LPS might also play a role in the inflammation seen in PCOS, researchers compared the blood of women who had been diagnosed with PCOS to that of women who had not.  Consistent with the previous research, the women with PCOS were indeed found to have significantly higher levels of LPS-markers in their bloodstreams (18), suggesting that, as with so many other diseases, a leaky gut and elevated LPS may be involved in the development of PCOS.

Interestingly, while examining the women’s blood, scientists noticed that LPS weren’t the only molecules significantly different between the two groups. The blood of women with PCOS also contained abnormally high levels of a class of compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs)  (19, 20).  

AGEs are large, complex molecules made by cross-reactions between sugars and proteins that are formed when plant or animal tissues are heated to high temperatures, such as when deep frying, broiling or roasting food (21, 22). Though naturally found in many foods, AGEs are too large to move easily through a healthy gut wall, and their levels are usually fairly low in the body (19, 20).

Intrigued by finding high levels of these molecules in the blood of women with PCOS, researchers decided to take a closer look at AGEs and their potential effects on the body. Their investigations found that, just like LPS, AGEs were able to activate the immune system and trigger inflammation in the body (11).

But that wasn’t all. AGEs were also shown to be able to promote inflammation a second way; they trigger the production of proinflammatory hormones, like tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) and interleukin 6 (IL-6), from the cells outside the immune system. Scientists discovered that the cells of some organs in your body have a receptor on their surfaces called RAGE (receptor for advanced glycation end products) that, when bound by AGEs, promote inflammation (11).

And here is where scientists knew they were really on to something with AGEs and PCOS. While exploring how RAGE works in the body, researchers found that this receptor is abnormally concentrated in — you guessed it — the ovaries (23). Activation of RAGE in the ovaries was then shown to induce ovarian inflammation and prevent ovarian cells from responding to female sex hormones, particularly luteinizing hormone (LH), properly (21, 24). Since LH is responsible for allowing follicles to mature and ovulation to occur (25), blocking LH signaling by AGEs could directly cause the anovulation and menstrual irregularities seen in PCOS.  

INFLAMMATION TO ANDROGENS

The final piece of the puzzle linking gut health to PCOS fell into place with the realization that chronic inflammation caused by LPS and AGEs can directly lead to elevated androgen levels in the body (4, 26, 27).

As we discussed above, inflammation leads to hyperinsulinemia. Excess insulin has now been shown to be able to drive the ovaries to produce excess androgens. It appears that a special group of ovarian cells, called theca cells, respond to increased insulin by releasing more and more androgens into the blood (26, 27).

Healing PCOS from the Gut

With the final link between insulin and androgen levels, we now have a comprehensive, logical mechanism to explain how PCOS and all its symptoms develop (4). And, as unexpected as it is, it looks like it all starts with dysbiosis, a leaky gut, and the influx of LPS and AGEs into the bloodstream.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of discovering the causative role of poor gut health in PCOS is the possibility of improving gut health as a potential cure!  

Since this theory is so new, there hasn’t been a ton of research examining the possibility of treating PCOS by balancing the microbiome. But the results of few that have been done suggest that the strategy is promising.

For example, one study placed 23 women with PCOS on a diet containing various amounts of AGEs. The researchers were able to demonstrate that a decreased intake of AGEs leads to lower levels of AGEs, insulin, inflammatory markers and testosterone in the women’s blood (28).

Another study looked at more directly dysbiosis and PCOS. Here, the researchers conducted a double-blind placebo-controlled study with 40 women diagnosed with PCOS. Half the women were given probiotics of healthy gut bacteria that can help heal dysbiosis, while the other half received a placebo. After 2 months, the women taking the probiotics had lower insulin levels than the women taking the placebo (29).

Together, these studies suggest that improving the health of your gut to decrease LPS and AGE absorption may prove a simple and effective way to minimize your symptoms or potentially even cure your PCOS.

So, what steps can you take if you want to improve your gut health and decrease your absorption of AGEs and LPS?

Some useful dietary and lifestyle changes you may consider implementing include:

  • Avoiding AGE-rich foods, such as roasted peanuts, fried or roasted meats or canned foods that have been sterilized by high heat (30).
  • Eating a diet low in refined sugars and fats, as both of sugar and fat can induce dysbiosis and a leaky gut (31, 32); as I discussed in a previous article, the type of fat makes a difference, but I’d still recommend a moderate fat intake for those with metabolic issues and PCOS.
  • Eating a diet rich in fiber; fiber can help prevent or reverse dysbiosis (33) and prebiotic intake can also decrease LPS levels in the blood (34).
  • Exercising regularly, which has been shown to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut (35).
  • Taking a probiotic to help keep your bacterial balance healthy (29, 36).

While these diet and lifestyle changes are a great start to addressing your gut health and associated PCOS, it may also be a good idea to see a practitioner about more in-depth and personalized ways to help you deal with this condition.

Having PCOS is a good sign that you likely have significant dysbiosis. A practitioner would be able to test your microbiota and determine how you should best deal with your microbial imbalance.

If you’d like to dive right into a more comprehensive, systematic approach to addressing microbial imbalances like SIBO or dysbiosis (including testing), check out my 2-month online course Build Your Biome.

If you have PCOS, does this information change how you think about this condition? Let me know in the comments below!

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What Can You Do About Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)?

What Can You Do About Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)?

Blood sugar regulation is process that is carefully balanced by our bodies.

We break down food to produce glucose and this is used by our cells for energy. Insulin, a hormone, acts as a key to open the door into the cell and allow glucose inside. If our blood sugar goes too low, another hormone called glucagon is released, which allows us to break down a stored form of glucose called glycogen. The process works much like a thermostat – when blood sugar is high, insulin is released to allow it to enter the cells; when it’s too low, glucagon is secreted to release stored glucose. Both high and low glucose can be dangerous, which is why our body works so hard to keep our levels in balance.

Today, I’m going to share my top tips for dealing with low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia.

Prolonged low blood sugar can cause serious medical problems, including seizure, coma, and even death. But the symptoms of a shortened period of low blood sugar can be more subtle.

It’s quite common for someone with hypoglycemia to not know it, and the symptoms are sometimes attributed to anxiety or panic attacks. In my own practice, I often find that patients complaining of brain fog, headache, anxiety, mood swings, or irritability feel instantly better once we start balancing their blood sugar.

What is Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)?

Hypoglycemia is usually defined as 70mg/dl or lower. It is at this point that a person will start to feel a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Hunger
  • Irritability
  • Feeling shaky
  • Rapid pulse or pounding heartbeat
  • Sleepiness
  • Weakness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Anxiety
  • Headache

So what can you do to prevent episodes of low blood sugar? Here are my top tips.

1. Eat within 30 minutes of waking up

It’s increasingly common for me to see clients who skip breakfast, or just consume Bulletproof coffee in the morning. While this can be healthy for some, it’s often counterproductive for hypoglycemics. Instead, I urge my hypoglycemic clients to eat a well-balanced meal within 30 minutes of waking up if possible. This usually consists of around 30-40 grams of protein (½ filet of salmon, half a chicken breast, 6 oz ground beef, etc) along with fat and some carbohydrates. The ideal amount of carbohydrates really depends on the client, but a good place to start is about 20 g (½ cup sweet potato). You can then experiment from there to determine what level of carbohydrate intake works best for your blood sugar.

2. Don’t eat carbohydrates alone

When we eat carbohydrates, we break them down into molecules of glucose that then go to the bloodstream. This process can happen quite quickly if there isn’t anything else in the stomach to slow down the digestive process. This can result in a blood sugar spike. For someone with reactive hypoglycemia, this spike causes the body to release too much insulin in response, eventually driving the blood sugar too low. This causes a hypoglycemic episode. Both fat and protein slow down the digestive process, and as a result, glucose is released more gradually into the bloodstream, keeping the blood glucose steady.

Avoid eating carbohydrates on their own, and instead combine them with at least some fat, and possibly some protein for best results. So instead of having an apple for a snack, you might have an apple (carbs) with almond butter (fat + protein)

3. Eat every 2-3 hours

While eating three square meal a day is a healthy choice for many people, it can sometimes cause problems for those with hypoglycemia. This is because their blood sugar has a hard time regulating itself and tends to go too low when they don’t eat for hours at a time. To help stave off low blood sugar, it’s a good idea to eat every 2-3 hours. Typically this means adding a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack and, depending on the person, potentially a bedtime snack, too.

Your snacks should consist of at protein, fat and carbohydrate just like your meals. Our previous example of an apple with peanut butter checks off all those categories.

4. Pay attention to adrenal health

When I have a client come to me with low blood sugar issues, one of the first things I evaluate is their adrenal health. This is because when the adrenals are worn out (you may have heard of this as “adrenal fatigue”) it leaves the body less able to properly handle low blood sugar. In someone with normal adrenal function, cortisol is released once blood sugar starts getting low and this causes the liver to release glucose, bringing the blood sugar back to normal. Someone with HPA axis dysfunction (adrenal fatigue) can’t make enough cortisol in this situation, and thus the signal to release glucose from the liver never gets turned on. This means that the blood sugar level just keeps getting lower instead of rising.

To learn more about adrenal health, check out my post on HPA axis dysfunction.

Finally, if you ever do have a hypoglycemia event make sure to eat 15 g of carbohydrate as soon as you feel it happening. If you don’t feel better in 15 minutes, eat another 15 g.

So there you have it! My top tips for dealing with low blood sugar.

Now I want to hear from you. Are there any tips you’d like to share?

Got Low Blood Pressure? 3 Tips to Prevent Hypotension Naturally

Got Low Blood Pressure? 3 Tips to Prevent Hypotension Naturally

Last week, I wrote a guest post for The Paleo Mom website all about lowering blood pressure naturally for those with hypertension. The post received a lot of great feedback, but there were quite a few people wondering what to do about low blood pressure. Since there are plenty of people out there who suffer from hypotension, I thought it’d be great to share some tips for them today too!

When Is Blood Pressure Too Low?

Most people think of low blood pressure as a good thing, but for those suffering from symptomatic hypotension it’s anything but!

While having low blood pressure without symptoms can be fine, experiencing symptoms like dizziness or lightheadedness as a result of the low blood pressure is a sign that it’s too low for you.

Technically, though, low blood pressure is defined as anything under 90/60 – if either of those numbers is below their respective cutoff point, you have low blood pressure.

Your doctor will likely just monitor you if you don’t have any symptoms, but will try to treat you if you are symptomatic due to your blood pressure.

Determining the Root Cause of Low Blood Pressure

When I work with clients, I like to know what the root cause of their issues are, so a quick word on root causes of low blood pressure is in order.

There are two main things I think of when I think of low blood pressure, which are: hypothyroidism and hypoadrenalism. The former is something your doctor would likely test for if you are experiencing low blood pressure symptoms, but make sure they actually do! Sometimes you have to ask – remember that you are the person most interested in your own health. The latter is what you may have heard of referred to as “adrenal fatigue”.

It can absolutely cause low blood pressure symptoms, specifically something called postural hypotension which is low blood pressure that happens as a result of standing from a sitting position. You can read (a lot) more about adrenal fatigue here.

It’s important to do some digging for the underlying cause of your low blood pressure (or any condition for that matter) because it helps to determine how it should be treated.

Today we’ll talk about three tips that can help you increase your low blood pressure, regardless of the underlying cause.

Determine Your Low Blood Pressure Triggers

Did you know that it’s pretty common for people with low blood pressure to experience a worsening in symptoms after eating? It’s important to pick up on the triggers for your hypotensive episodes, so I highly suggest keeping a symptom diary. Make notes about what you’re eating throughout the day and when, as well as when you experience symptoms.

A few things to keep track of:

  • Do you experience symptoms after eating? If so, try eating smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Are your symptoms worse after a night of bad sleep? Try some things to help you get better sleep.
  • Do you get dizzy upon standing? Get up slower by first sitting up, moving your legs and feet to get blood circulating, then stand up.
  • Are your symptoms worse when you are stressed out? Incorporate some mind-body medicine techniques.
  • Do you experience symptoms when you are dehydrated? Drink more water and salt (see Tip #2).
  • Are your symptoms worse when you’re very hot? Try to avoid being in very hot environments.

Get the idea? Many people don’t understand what triggers their symptoms, and thus don’t take steps to avoid these situations. Keep a diary and figure out what triggers your symptoms and then do your best to avoid the situations that cause your symptoms.

Increase Your Salt and Water Intake

If you have low blood pressure, this is probably the tip you hear most often and it’s really important! Consuming more salt helps you retain more water, which in turn can bring up blood pressure.

For those eating a real food diet, it can actually be difficult to consume enough salt! Over 75% of the average American’s salt intake comes from processed foods, so if you’re avoiding those you are probably not getting a ton of salt in your diet. (1)

You may need to experiment with the amount of salt and water that works for you – remember that everyone is different and has different requirements, even within the same disease.

To increase you sodium consumption without dousing all your food in salt, I recommend making a homemade “Gatorade”. Here’s the recipe:

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp honey (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp sea salt (I like Real Salt)
  • 1 liter filtered water

Mix everything together and you’ve got an easy way to get lots of extra salt in your diet!

Take Licorice Root

Licorice has been shown to increase blood pressure. (2) It’s also very helpful in cases of hypoadrenalism (one of the main root causes of low blood pressure) because it actually extends the life of cortisol in the bloodstream, meaning that if you have low cortisol levels, taking licorice helps you to make use of the cortisol you do have.

You can either take a licorice supplement or drink licorice tea. Don’t think of licorice as the black licorice candy – actual licorice root tastes very different! It’s very sweet so it makes a great tea when mixed with something else for flavor. I love licorice ginger tea, personally! Here’s the recipe for that:

Place ingredients in a tea ball or strainer and steep for 3 minutes in hot water.

I’d love to hear from you! What tricks do you use to keep your blood pressure up?