Many people become light-headed from hunger but have you ever gotten dizzy after eating some food? This never used to happen to me so I looked into the matter after experiencing a few post-meal dizzy spells. To my surprise, I found out there is definitely a connection between eating and feeling woozy.
Normally, eating relieves dizziness by raising the body’s blood sugar levels. But several medical conditions can produce vertigo after mealtime.
The most common cause of feeling light-headed is from standing up too fast after sitting for a long time. The sudden change in fluid volumes and blood flow can upset your equilibrium.
In my case, I get dizzy after eating while still sitting down. One reason this can occur is called postprandial hypotension. “Postprandial” refers to the time period after a meal, especially dinner. “Hypotension” means low blood pressure.
Blood pressure is the force of circulating blood on the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure involves two measurements: systolic (measured when the heartbeats, with blood pressure at its highest) and diastolic (measured between heartbeats, with blood pressure at its lowest). Blood pressure is written with the systolic blood pressure first, followed by the diastolic blood pressure (for example 120/80).
A person’s blood pressure changes throughout the day and night based on activities and idleness. Exercise can raise blood pressure temporarily; resting and sleeping typically lower blood pressure.
After eating, blood flows to the stomach and intestines from other parts of the body to aid digestion. Consequently, the heart rate goes up as the cardiac muscle pumps more blood and blood vessels constrict (tighten). Both an elevated heart rate and narrowed blood vessels can produce dizziness.
Postprandial hypotension – low blood pressure after eating – affects up to 1 in 3 older men and women. Younger people seldom experience this unsettling condition.
When the heart and blood vessels don’t respond normally, blood pressure drops everywhere except in the digestive tract. The resultant lightheadedness can create further complications, including:
- Chest pain (angina)
- Vision problems
- Mini-strokes (transient ischemia)
Fainting as a result of falling blood pressure is called syncope (SIN-co-pee). After eating, systolic blood pressure often drops. Using a home blood pressure monitor can show if blood pressure is lower after eating than beforehand.
If the blood pressure isn’t falling after eating, other sources of lowered arterial pressure include:
- Heart valve disease
- Thyroid disease
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency
Postprandial hypotension may be inherited or it may follow a stroke, accident or other nerve trauma or damage. (In my case, lingering post-herpetic neuralgia after a severe case of shingles is a prime suspect.)
Plunging blood pressure also accompanies aging when the body loses its ability to respond quickly to sudden variations in blood pressure.
High blood pressure stiffens arteries and prevents them from expanding and contracting. This can aggravate postprandial hypotension.
Malfunctioning blood pressure sensors in the arteries or stretch receptors in the stomach (which tell other parts of the body that eating is happening) can produce postprandial hypotension. Other causes include diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and other nerve-damaging conditions.
There are several ways to reduce or prevent postprandial hypotension:
- Drink 12 to 18 ounces of water 15 minutes before eating to moderate the body’s blood pressure and prevent a sudden drop.
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day because consuming larger amounts of food is linked to triggering dizziness. One recommendation was to partake of 6-7 small meals rather than the three traditional big ones (breakfast/lunch/dinner).
- Avoid tanking up on foods made from highly-refined flour and sugar since these high-carb sources travel rapidly from the stomach to the small intestine, leading to lightheadedness. Substitute foods that take longer to digest, such as whole grains, beans, protein, and healthy oils.
- Because blood pressure bottoms out between 30 to 60 minutes after eating (on average), sitting or reclining for an hour after a munch can lessen the chance of becoming dizzy.
If you check your blood pressure before and after eating and spot recurring blood pressure drops after meals, share your findings with your healthcare provider at your next regular appointment. But if dizziness or other obvious symptoms accompany falling blood pressure or if symptoms of low blood pressure appear regularly after eating, then don’t delay: see your doctor as soon as you can.
A healthcare professional may advise taking medicines that lower blood pressure at times other than before a meal.
One theory behind postprandial hypotension is that insulin released after carb-loading may run interference with the autonomic nervous system. In this case, substituting proteins and fats for carbohydrates may ease dizziness after eating.
Walking after eating can keep blood pressure up – until you stop when it is likely to fall back again. Regular exercise strengthens the cardiovascular system – and that’s a good thing for the entire body.
Taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) before a meal such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) may help prop up flagging blood pressure after eating. Similarly, drinking a caffeinated beverage (coffee or cola) constricts blood vessels. Just don’t overdo it.