Can Modified Fasting Help Control Blood Pressure?
First, the bad news: Diseases related to high blood pressure and hypertension are the #1 killer1 in developed countries around the world.
Now the good news: Scientists have long known that lifestyle changes2 like including flaxseed in a whole foods diet rich in fruits and vegetables, exercise, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and reducing the amount of sodium you consume can have a positive impact on your blood pressure.
And now the best news: Recent studies reveal that there’s another simple way you can lower your blood pressure dramatically without medication. It’s called modified fasting.
In this article:
- Wait, What Is Modified Fasting?
- Modified Fasting to Control Blood Pressure
- How Does Modified Fasting Improve Blood Pressure?
- Conclusions About Modified Fasting and Blood Pressure
Wait, What Is Modified Fasting?
An overwhelming number of studies show that fasting has enormous health benefits,3 improving brain health, heart health, and of course blood pressure. But thankfully, there’s no need to go completely without food. Recent studies4 show that a modified fast of 800 calories or fewer allows you to reap the same benefits as a water-only fast.
During a modified fast, you’ll eat fewer than 800 calories each day for three days (along with plenty of water, of course!). To learn more about modified fasting, check out these answers to FAQs, scroll through the articles I’ve already written about the many ways fasting benefits your health, or download my free book on the science behind modified fasting.
Modified Fasting to Control Blood Pressure
All forms of fasting (including modified fasting!) have been shown to improve blood pressure by reducing inflammation throughout the body, triggering autophagy, improving heart health, and increasing production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor).
In one study,5 researchers followed patients with hypertension (blood pressure over 140/90 mm Hg) who spent several days fasting.
Incredibly, 90% of the patients in the study achieved lower blood pressure by the end of their fast — the higher the starting blood pressure, the more dramatic the results. The average patient reduced his or her blood pressure by 37/12 mm Hg.
And the kicker is that 100% of patients who had been taking hypertension medication before the study began were able to discontinue their medication after the study.
How Does Modified Fasting Improve Blood Pressure?
Okay, so how exactly does modified fasting improve blood pressure? There are four key ways.
Modified Fasting Triggers Autophagy
While the word “autophagy” may sound unfamiliar, your body is extremely familiar with this biological process. The word actually means “self eating.”
Autophagy is triggered by food scarcity6 (for instance, when you sleep at night or when you are sick and can’t eat, or when you don’t eat for health purposes). The process involves flushing toxins and recycling old, damaged, and mutated cell components. Modified fasting likewise triggers your body to enter autophagy.
During extended periods of autophagy, your body can “clean house” on waste buildup and recycle old and damaged cells in organs and systems that regulate blood pressure:
- The hypothalamus: This command center in the brain works in tandem with your endocrine system to release hormones that regulate blood pressure
- The kidneys: Your kidneys produce hormones that raise or lower blood volume
- The cardiovascular center: This part of the brain controls your heart rate and the size of your blood vessels.
Waste buildup, damaged cells, and old cells can make it difficult for these systems to communicate with one another properly and operate efficiently. Think of autophagy as a tuneup and a deep-clean for your system!
Modified Fasting Reduces Inflammation
One of the ways that modified fasting helps improve blood pressure is by reducing inflammation7 caused by free radicals and oxidative stress in the body.
As cells in the body process energy, they create byproducts known as free radicals (unpaired molecules that can damage cells) and trigger an increase of monocytes (a type of white blood cell that is associated with inflammation).
Several studies show that increased monocyte levels are strongly correlated with high blood pressure and inflammation of the heart.8 Fasting (which gives cells a break from processing energy and producing free radicals) has been shown to reduce monocyte levels and markers of inflammation9 throughout the body.
Modified Fasting Improves Overall Heart Health
While science previously attributed the majority of heart attacks, heart disease, and cases of hypertension to fat “clogging up the arteries,” most now believe that these conditions are primarily linked to inflammation in the heart10 as a result of overconsumption combined with a highly processed diet and oxidative stress. As inflammation levels rise, the body produces C-reactive protein, which has been strongly correlated with hypertension, stroke, and heart attacks.11
In one study, participants who spent time fasting were able to significantly lower their C-reactive protein levels,12 reducing their risk of heart attack and heart disease as well as lowering their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Modified Fasting Increases BDNF
All types of fasting have been shown to increase the brain’s production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor13 (BDNF), which helps protect neurons from oxidative stress and damage.
So, what exactly does BDNF have to do with healthy blood pressure? BDNF plays an important role in regulating cardiovascular function through neuron signaling. In one study, mice with low BDNF levels showed elevated heart rates;14 when those mice received an infusion of BDNF, their heart rates lowered to a normal rate.
Conclusions About Modified Fasting and Blood Pressure
When combined with a healthy, unprocessed diet and regular exercise, modified fasting is one of the very best ways you can lower your blood pressure. Modified fasting induces autophagy to “clean house” on the cells in your cardiovascular system and throughout the body, reduces inflammation (a key culprit of hypertension and heart disease!), improves overall heart health, and triggers an increase in BDNF to help stabilize and regulate heart rate.Robyn Openshaw, MSW, is the bestselling author of The Green Smoothies Diet, 12 Steps to Whole Foods, and 2017’s #1 Amazon Bestseller and USA Today Bestseller, Vibe. Learn more about how to make the journey painless, from the nutrient-scarce Standard American Diet, to a whole-foods diet, in her free video masterclass 12 Steps to Whole Foods.
- Peck RN, Green E, Mtabaji J, et al. Hypertension-related diseases as a common cause of hospital mortality in Tanzania: a 3-year prospective study. J Hypertens. 2013;31(9):1806–1811. doi:10.1097/HJH.0b013e328362bad7
- Aronow WS. Lifestyle measures for treating hypertension. Arch Med Sci. 2017;13(5):1241–1243. doi:10.5114/aoms.2017.68650
- Anton SD, Moehl K, Donahoo WT, et al. Flipping the Metabolic Switch: Understanding and Applying the Health Benefits of Fasting. Obesity (Silver Spring).
- Longo VD, Mattson MP. Fasting: molecular mechanisms and clinical applications. Cell Metab. 2014;19(2):181–192. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2013.12.008
- Goldhamer A, Lisle D, Parpia B, Anderson SV, Campbell TC. Medically supervised water-only fasting in the treatment of hypertension. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. (2001) 24:335–9. 10.1067/mmt.2001.115263
- Mizushima N, Levine B, Cuervo AM, Klionsky DJ. Autophagy fights disease through cellular self-digestion. Nature. 2008;451(7182):1069–1075. doi:10.1038/nature06639
- Martin B, Golden E, Egan JM, Mattson MP, Maudsley S. Reduced energy intake: the secret to a long and healthy life?. IBS J Sci. 2007;2(2):35–39.
- Wenzel P. Monocytes as immune targets in arterial hypertension. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2019;176(12):1966–1977. doi: 10.1111/bph.14389
- Jordan, Stefan. Dietary Intake Regulates the Circulating Inflammatory Monocyte Pool. (2019). Cell.
- Lopez-Candales A, Hernández Burgos PM, Hernandez-Suarez DF, Harris D. Linking Chronic Inflammation with Cardiovascular Disease: From Normal Aging to the Metabolic Syndrome. J Nat Sci. 2017;3(4):e341.
- Schillaci G, Pirro M. C-reactive protein in hypertension: clinical significance and predictive value. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2006;16:500–508.
- Wei, Min et al. Fasting-Mimicking Diet and Markers/Risk Factors for Aging, Diabetes, Cancer, and Cardiovascular Disease. Science Translational Medicine. 02/2017.
- Mattson MP. Energy intake, meal frequency, and health: a neurobiological perspective. Annu Rev Nutr. 2005;25:237–260
- Wan R, Weigand LA, Bateman R, Griffioen K, Mendelowitz D, Mattson MP. Evidence that BDNF regulates heart rate by a mechanism involving increased brainstem parasympathetic neuron excitability. J Neurochem. 2014;129(4):573–580. doi:10.1111/jnc.12656