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Dear Mark: Hydroponic vs. Regular Vegetables; Lowering Blood Pressure Without Meds

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering two questions. First up, do the nutrient contents of hydroponic produce differ from soil-grown produce? If so, in what way? Then I give a few (somehwat unprompted) tips for lowering blood pressure without meds. While meds can and do help people overcome or mitigate hypertension, we should apply other options. What are these possibilities?

Let’s go:

Hydroponic veggies – Any nutritional difference?

Hydroponic: more room for things to go right or wrong. The mineral content of a hydroponically-grown leaf of spinach depends entirely on the minerals added to the growth solution. If the grower is clueless, their product will be less nutritious. If you’ve got a hydroponic grower who knows what they’re doing, it can be great. They can even use hydroponic systems to incorporate nutrients we require but inadequately obtain (like iodine [1]) into vegetables that normally don’t provide it (like lettuce). 

What about polyphenols and other antioxidant compounds? Many of these vitamins and antioxidants are defense mechanisms for the plants. The more stress they endure, they higher the levels. The more cultivated and controlled your operation gets, the lower the levels. So wild (“uncultivated”) greens have higher carotenoid content [2] than conventional (“cultivated”) greens, and hydro leafy greens have been shown to have significantly lower levels of carotenoids [3], including lutein, beta-carotene, neoxanthin, and violaxanthin, than conventionally grown greens. 

Soybeans grown in hydroponic conditions have more fat and fiber than their conventional counterparts, but fewer phytochemicals [4].

Hydroponic vegetables appear to have more nitrates [5] than other varieties. Some authors paint this as a negative, yet I see it as a boon; nitrate begets nitric oxide, which improves vascular function and health [6].

All in all, there are some differences. If hydroponic farming ever takes off and provides a sizeable portion of the food we eat, I can only imagine the growers would innovate and replicate . Maybe hormetic doses of pests applied to boost polyphenols.

Mark, Blood Pressure Meds. So many of my contemporaries are on BP meds, and I just got advised by my doc to start. I’ve been Primal for 4-5 years and read all your posts, but don’t recall anything on this widespread problem/question. Please advise. Bill

Going Primal or paleo fixes blood pressure issues for many, but it’s not a panacea. There are some quick tweaks and hacks a person can enact, many of which a Primal devotee might be missing or unaware of. If anything strikes a chord, give it a try and report back.

  1. Eat more protein. Higher protein intakes consistently reduce blood pressure, especially compared to higher carb intakes [7].
  2. Eat more whey protein. Whey protein in particular has powerful effects on blood pressure. A recent paper [8] found that whey protein (56 grams a day in two doses) improved 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure in “prehypertensives” and “mild hypertensives” (categories you may fall into).
  3. Reduce salt if salt-sensitive. Some people are salt-sensitives—extra salt increases blood pressure. But that’s not everyone, and at any rate the singular attention paid to sodium intake does a disservice to all the other interventions that work. I’ve already written a couple posts about the relationship between salt intake and blood pressure [9], so go read those [10].
  4. Eat your fruits and veggies. Everyone talks about sodium and blood pressure. Equally or more important is potassium, which is primarily found in produce. People with hypertension who eat the most potassium enjoy [11] around a 7-point drop in systolic blood pressure and a 2-point drop in diastolic blood pressure.. Unfortunately, the official recommendations for sodium and potassium intake cannot be met simultaneously [12]. Something’s gotta give, and I suggest focusing your efforts on eating lots of potassium (potatoes, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, bananas).
  5. Don’t eat excessive carbohydrates. Now “excessive” is relative to how much glycogen you burn. CrossFitters and elite athletes will have higher ceilings. So will pregnant and nursing women. Office workers probably have lower needs. Only eat what you earn or require.
  6. Get more insulin sensitive. If you’re insulin resistant, you’ll secrete more insulin in response to carbohydrate than someone who’s insulin sensitive, and elevated levels of insulin are consistent and early predictors of hypertension [13]. If you’re not doing at least half of the recommendations in this post [14], you’re selling your endothelia function short. Until you’re able to improve insulin sensitivity (or enact the lifestyle modifications that promote it), stick to low-carb eating to reduce the insulin load.
  7. Eat beets. Beets are a dense source of nitrates, which improve blood pressure [15].
  8. Eat nitrates if you hate beets. Yes, it’s not just “natural” beet-borne nitrates that improve blood pressure. Non-organic sodium nitrate—the stuff commonly used to cure bacon—also reduces blood pressure [16].
  9. Choose your carbs wisely. White rice has negligible amounts of minerals. A white potato has tons of potassium and a decent amount of magnesium.
  10. Address your anxiety. That acute anxiety increases blood pressure acutely is adaptive, reflecting the urgent delivery of blood-borne nutrients and energy to cells around the body to increase readiness in stressful situations. It only becomes a problem when the anxiety grows chronic, when everything puts you on edge. A recent study [17] found that having an anxiety disorder increases the risk of developing hypertension by 4.14.
  11. Drink hibiscus tea, which lowers blood pressure in pre-hypertensives [17], type 2 diabetics [18], and Nigerians with mild hypertension [19]. That last one found hibiscus tea to be more effective than diuretic drugs, without the electrolyte imbalance. A recent review of the evidence agrees [20]: hibiscus tea works.
  12. Sleep. Adequate sleep lowers blood pressure. No sleep does the opposite. And when you make a habit of poor sleep, even a good night’s sleep [21] has less of a beneficial effect on your blood pressure.
  13. Meditate (or the equivalent for you). Stress is a major inducer of hypertension. As with anxiety, stress-related hypertension is fleeting and fairly normal. Regular meditation [22] (or, again, one of the equivalents [23]) prevents that stress from developing into a chronic, pathological condition.

Check everything out with your doctor. Show the links and references. If your readings aren’t in a critical range and your doctor will agree to work with you, try this stuff before going on meds.

Let me know how it goes.

If you have any more input on the blood pressure question, share your thoughts down below. If I think there’s enough new information out there, maybe I’ll do a dedicated post on the subject.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.