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Hypertension Linked to Diet and Intestinal Bacteria


A new study shows that high blood pressure may have even more to do with diet and how your body processes food than with genetics. The study, led by researchers at the Imperial College London, analyzed the chemicals found in the urine of 4,630 middle-aged adults in Great Britain, the US, China and Japan. They discovered significant differences between the metabolic profiles of the Eastern and Western participants even when the genetic profiles were similar. Notably, Japanese participants living in the West showed metabolic profiles closer to those of Westerners. The researchers concluded that these results indicate that lifestyle and diet determine blood pressure levels to an even greater extent than genetics. Furthermore, they found a strong link between hypertension and specific chemicals in the urine of the sample population, which gave strong indications as to what exactly triggers a rise in blood pressure.

First of all, the participants with high blood pressure had elevated levels of the amino acid alanine, which is abundant in animal protein. Those with lower blood pressure showed higher levels of the compound hippurate, created when the body breaks down starches through the activity of digestive enzymes and gut bacteria such as those found in probiotics. In addition, hippurate levels decrease when you drink alcohol and increase if you eat fiber. The researchers also found the compound formate at higher levels in those with low blood pressure. Formate helps in metabolizing chloride from salt.

The implications couldn’t be clearer. Regular consumption of high levels of meat and dairy raises your alanine level and therefore puts you in the group at risk for high blood pressure. Drinking alcohol alone or with your meals lowers your hippurate level, which again, puts you in the at-risk group. If you eat lots of fiber on the other hand, you raise the level of hippurate, which puts you in the low-risk category. And if you optimize your balance of intestinal bacteria through good diet and supplementation, you most likely have an abundance of formate and hipurate, which again, puts you in the low-risk category.

In short, the results of the study mean you need to keep your gut healthy in order to maintain healthy blood pressure. This means eating lots of organic vegetables, fruits, and whole foods, while avoiding sugars, starches, and excessive amounts of animal protein or alcohol. It means cleansing and detoxing your colon a few times a year to give it a chance to slough off toxins, parasites, and waste and regain its proper balance of flora. It also means supplementing with a probiotic formula that contains recognized super strains of beneficial bacteria, particularly L. acidophilus and bifidobacteria. And finally, it means taking digestive enzymes with every meal.

The good news is that genetics don’t necessarily condemn you to hypertension. Professor Paul Elliott, a study co-author, says: “… whereas a person can’t alter their DNA, they can change their metabolic profile by changing their diet and lifestyle.” Amen to that!

PS: What about the salt factor? The medical community regularly asserts a link between high-salt diets and hypertension. This new research, on the other hand, indicates that hippurate metabolizes salt, which means, since hippurate levels rise with good overall diet and healthy gut bacteria, that the effect of salt on your blood pressure is largely determined by the state of your intestinal health and by dietary factors other than the salt itself. And anyway, as I’ve pointed out before, the link between salt and high-blood pressure isn’t that simple. There’s a significant difference between unprocessed sea salt, which your body needs in moderation, and commercial, refined salt, which stresses your system.