Brain Inflammation Increases Blood Pressure

February 20, 2017 | Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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Brain Inflammation Increases Blood Pressure
An overlooked aspect, yet one of the most fundamental factors at the core of blood pressure management is the brain and its health. Researchers have been exploring this link for decades, but now key advancements point to increased oxidative stress levels deep within the brain leads to hypertension. Salt sensitivity, kidney function, blood vessel stiffness and blood pressure hormones are still factors, but research shows, blood pressure support needs to focus on the brain.

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The brain’s role in hypertension is linked with inflammation in cells deep within the brain’s hypothalamus called the paraventricular nucleus or PVN. This nerve tissue is heavily involved with regulating the tone of the autonomic nervous system via the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic system is associated with fight or flight, high energy, excitation, and blood vessel constriction. The parasympathetic system is associated with blood vessel dilation, relaxation, digestion, and general repair.

The PVN is very sensitive to oxidative stress, especially high salt stress. Excess stress to this tissue leads to “neurogenic hypertension” or nerve-stress induced high blood pressure. High salt intake and inadequately compensated for oxidative stress trigger dangerous reactive oxygen species (ROS) and inflammatory elements like NF-kappa B. This disrupts the normal autonomic nervous system function. A cascade effect then occurs with stress responses which affect blood pressure hormones that regulate sodium, injures mitochondria, and eventually leads to elevated blood pressure. Intervention in this cascade process blunts the effect of salt-induced high blood pressure.

Salt is Not Evil


Salt-induced hypertension doesn’t suddenly develop. Salt, or sodium chloride, is needed for numerous functions in the body as it is a required electrolyte just like magnesium, potassium and calcium. Salt intake naturally triggers activation of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system which causes blood vessel constriction, but is naturally buffered with magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants. However, ongoing high salt intake with a diet lacking in magnesium and potassium, high in saturated fats, and low in vegetables and fruit makes natural blood pressure management a challenge. This imbalance leads to a repetitive strain to the PVN in the brain. At some point, the PVN reaches a threshold of more inflammation than compensation. This process leads to “silent hypertension” as usually, there are no symptoms of this occurring until a major breakdown occurs like a heart attack or stroke.

Identification of this brain inflammation is a vital piece in successful blood pressure management. Even more important is to have knowledge of what quenches this oxidative stress response. This is where it gets exciting because several natural nutrients, leptin management, and exercise have been shown beneficial in protecting the brain and PVN from this inflammation. Brain and PVN protection is at the crux of hypertension management. It can be combined with other tools historically used for blood pressure management.

Nutrients for PVN, Brain, and Blood Pressure


Several nutrients have been identified in recent months as very powerful agents instrumental in lowering blood pressure, even with salt-induced hypertension. Pomegranate extract is known for heart and circulatory system support. It now is recognized as one of the star players able to dampen the PVN stress response. Several animal studies demonstrate a wide range of benefits.

A recent study revealed several previously unknown benefits of pomegranate extract for blood pressure support. It showed that long-term intake of pomegranate extract reduced oxidative stress and inflammation within the PVN. It increased mitochondrial function and led to the biogenesis or birth of new mitochondria. Simultaneously, it decreased free radical damage to mitochondria within the PVN. Blood pressure declined and nerve, circulatory, and inflammatory stress declined which took stress off the heart.

Another study showed that pomegranate extract acted like a natural ACE inhibitor. ACE inhibitors are a group of blood pressure medications that affects renin, aldosterone and angiotensin hormones and the RAAS system involved with blood pressure, kidneys, and heart. In this animal study, ongoing intake of pomegranate led to a decline in the systolic level or top number in blood pressure readings. Coronary arteries of the heart became less inflamed from oxidative stress without the adverse effects of the drugs. Evidence indicated that pomegranate extract may prove beneficial in alleviating coronary heart disease and oxidative stress from elevated blood pressure.

Lipoic acid was found particularly helpful in high-salt induced hypertension and PVN stress. A recent study showed that a very high dose of alpha-lipoic acid markedly decreased salt-induced hypertension, reduced the activation of the sympathetic nervous system stress, and PVN inflammation. Alpha-lipoic acid is 50 percent active, whereas the natural form R-alpha-lipoic acid is 100 percent active. Consider using a dose of 800-1200 mg per day of R-alpha-lipoic acid for very significant concerns and 200-400 mg for mild to moderate support.

Green tea extract also helps reduce sympathetic nervous system excitability, inflammation, and PVN stress. Green tea extract has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which protect blood vessels. Green tea extract de-stresses the PVN tissues by restoring order to communications within the PVN. Research published a few weeks ago showed that it balanced neurotransmitters and cytokines within the PVN. The best results occurred with long-tem use of the green tea extract.

Olive leaf extract is another helpful herbal extract for hypertension. Recent science demonstrated that olive leaf extract provides remarkable antioxidant protection to the PVN in animals with hypertension. Olive leaf extract increased mitochondrial biogenesis through several different pathways, including a key agent called Nrf2. Nrf2 helps increase antioxidant proteins that protects against oxidative damage and inflammation. Olive leaf extract markedly increased Nrf2 in the PVN which provided remarkable protection against inflammation and hypertension.

Leptin resistance worsens PVN function and inflammation which, in turn, worsens blood pressure. Brain inflammation and leptin resistance is seen in weight loss plateaus and blood sugar struggles which feed the cycle of hypertension and metabolic syndrome. In order to break this cycle, start with following the Leptin Diet Five Rules for leptin management. Pomegranate with omega-3 fish oil, green tea extract, and high quality protein offer solid support for leptin and blood pressure.

NF-kappa B is one of the inflammatory markers seen in the PVN. Excess amounts of NF-kappa B stress the sympathetic nervous system that results in narrowing of blood vessels and inflammation. When it is dampened, high blood pressure is reduced and less stress on the heart occurs. Thus, another goal is to dampen excess NF-kappa B in the PVN. Some of the best nutrients that accomplish this are coenzyme Q10, curcumin, and resveratrol. These nutrients are also used to help protect blood vessels, heart and cholesterol and reduce diabetic and mitochondrial stress.

In addition to powerful nutrients and reduction in excess salt intake, exercise has been shown to buffer the effects of hypertension and inflammation on the hypothalamic PVN. A recent animal study demonstrated that regular exercise helped to balance out excitatory neurotransmitters with inhibitory neurotransmitters and cytokines in the PVN. The nervous system and brain’s response to the exercise led to more stable blood pressure and took the stress off the heart. Treatment of high blood pressure has always focused on diet and exercise. This information helps confirm how important regular exercise is to the deep structures in the brain that manage blood pressure.

Blood pressure management and intervention occurs through many different avenues. The knowledge of brain inflammation within the PVN that leads to elevated blood pressure opens the door to powerful tools of intervention for the most important organ of the body – the brain. This focus helps prevent the negative cascade seen with the sympathetic autonomic nervous system stress, oxidative stress, salt-induced hypersensitivity, and inflammatory reactions within blood vessels, heart and the blood pressure hormones renin, aldosterone, and angiotensin.

Science now demonstrates that pomegranate extract, olive leaf extract, lipoic acid, green tea extract, coenzyme Q10, curcumin, and resveratrol provide great protection to the PVN and also throughout the body. A well-rounded healthy approach to improve blood pressure includes these nutrients with exercise and leptin management.

Nutritional Options


Pomegranate Extract – This super fruit contains a special antioxidant called punicalagins found only in pomegranate. Pomegranate extract has been used for heart friendly and cholesterol support. Research now confirms powerful support for brain and blood pressure support. Heat and pasteurization breaks down this antioxidant when consumed as a juice. Use a standardized extract to get the best possible benefits.

Green Tea Extract – This extract helps support many different facets of health, like weight management, obesity, and blood sugar. Green tea extract helps reduce the sympathetic nervous system excitability that increases blood pressure. This may help some who experience blood pressure elevations in response to stress or the “”White Coat Syndrome”.

R-Alpha Lipoic Acid –This natural form of lipoic acid provides excellent support to nerves throughout the body. We now see that it also helps reduce salt-induced nerve stress. It is a vital antioxidant for nerve and heart health.

Coenzyme Q10 – Coenzyme Q10 has a very long history of great benefit for heart and blood pressure. Q10 levels decline as the body age which leads to increasing levels of inflammation. Quenching inflammation is at the “heart” of the blood pressure and brain health.

Resveratrol – Resveratrol is another versatile nutrient and potent antioxidant. Studies repeatedly show its benefit for neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and cognitive decline. It helps protect mitochondria too. This makes it a highly prized antioxidant for brain, inflammation, mitochondria, and blood pressure support.

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