Your gut activities may influence hypertension.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the most important risk factors for heart disease, stroke, other cardiovascular diseases, chronic kidney disease, and dementia. This silent killer is growing in prevalence and needs to be managed effectively.
You can manage high blood pressure through medication and healthful habits. However, not everyone with hypertension finds medication and lifestyle interventions effective.
Scientists are now looking for other causes of hypertension so that they can treat the condition effectively. One of the things scientists are looking at is how the activities in your gut influence your blood pressure.
The microorganisms living in your gut is known as your gut microbiome. These millions of little gut bugs include bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Your gut community is like a big, multiracial, multicultural city. There are, for example, more than 1000 species of bacteria that call your gut their home. Some bacteria enhance your health (good bacteria) while others (bad bacteria) attribute to health problems.
Studies about gut bacteria and high blood pressure
A study in the Microbiome journal looked at the gut bacteria of people with ideal, prehypertensive (high blood pressure that is not high enough to receive a diagnosis but high enough to be at risk of hypertension in the future) , and hypertensive blood pressure levels. They found a reduction in the diversity of gut bacteria in those with prehypertension or hypertension.
Other studies have been done on mice. Transplanting fecal matter from people with hypertension into germ-free mice caused them to develop high blood pressure. A 2019 study transplanted fecal matter from mice without hypertension into mice with hypertension. The result: the mice with hypertension now had reduced blood pressure.
Right now, studies are mostly observational and no conclusions can be made. Scientists are only beginning to understand how your microbiome influences your health. The studies about how the microbiome influences blood pressure is ongoing.
Although the link between hypertension and the gut may not seem that obvious, one thing to consider is that many things that increase the risk of hypertension, like the consumption of alcohol and salty food, enter the body through the digestive system.
The gastrointestinal tract also plays a role in metabolism, and the production of hormones, and is in direct connection with the nervous system and this in turn can influence blood pressure.
Hypertension and diet
To influence the role of the gut on your health, you have to look at what you eat. Eating foods that help good bacteria grow will benefit your overall health and might also help with hypertension.
Eating more flavonoid-rich foods
Flavonoids are a group of plant-based compounds found in fruits and vegetables that are known for their antioxidant properties. They are believed to have a wide range of health benefits, including reducing inflammation, improving heart health, and even fighting cancer.
Consuming more foods rich in flavonoids may help reduce your systolic blood pressure – the “top number” indicating the pressure of blood against artery walls during a heartbeat – particularly if you have a wider variety of bacteria in your gut, as per a study published in August 2021 in the journal Hypertension.
Participants in the study mainly consumed berries, red wine, apples, and pears. Other foods rich in flavonoids include kale, spinach, onions, garlic, and dark chocolate.
Eating more fibre
Some researchers believe that short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are produced by gut bacteria as they digest dietary fiber, could be one of the links between the gut and hypertension. Your bacteria produce SCFAs and then these SCFAs get absorbed into your body where it affects lots of physiological processes including blood pressure.
Eating foods packed with fibre, will not only help your gut stay healthy but might also lower your blood pressure.
Foods high in fibre include:
- Legumes (such as beans, peas, and lentils)
- Whole grains (such as brown rice, popcorn, quinoa, and barley)
- Fruits and vegetables (such as raspberries, artichokes, apples, and broccoli)
- Nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed, almonds, and pistachios)
Limiting red meat
Red meat contains choline, which the gut microbes break down into triethylamine (TMA). The liver then converts this to trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a substance linked to artery-clogging plaque. This plaque build-up can lead to high blood pressure. People with higher levels of TMAO in their blood are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Reducing the amount of red meat you eat, can help lower your risk of high blood pressure and the associated health complications.
Research about how your gut influences your blood pressure is ongoing. What you eat, affects your gut health, and might affect your blood pressure as well. Eating more flavonoid-rich foods and fibre whilst limiting red meat can influence your gut microbiome and this in turn might lower your blood pressure.
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