Why high blood pressure means a bigger breast cancer risk

When you think about the risks associated with high blood pressure, what’s the first one that comes to mind?

For me, it’s heart attacks. After heart attacks, it’s strokes. That’s because about seven in ten people who have their first heart attack have high blood pressure. And high blood pressure causes about 50 percent of strokes.

But way, way, way down the list of blood pressure-related risks, there’s another noteworthy risk I never knew about — breast cancer.

High blood pressure increases the risk of breast cancer by 15 percent.

It seems an unlikely connection to me. I get why high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack and strokes. High blood pressure damages and narrows your arteries, which prevents blood from flowing properly to your brain and heart. Block that blood flow enough and you have a heart attack or stroke on your hands.

But breast cancer? Why?

Well, researchers may finally have an answer to that question…

What high blood pressure and breast cancer have in common

A study from researchers at the University of Virginia found that breast cancer and high blood pressure have something significant in common…

The protein GRK4.

Previous studies show that high levels of the protein GRK4 can cause elevated blood pressure. But now we know this protein is present in breast cancer cells too. Even more importantly, it’s not present in normal breast cells.

To figure this out, researchers examined breast cancer cells and healthy breast cells, looking closely at the expression of the GRK4 protein. GRK4 expression was much higher in breast cancer than in normal breast cells.

Now, GRK4 isn’t usually expressed (turned into a protein by a gene) in your breasts. So, its presence there is suspicious, to say the least. So suspicious that researchers came to one startling conclusion…

GRK4 may be encouraging breast cancer to grow and spread.

Since we already know GRK4 is linked to high blood pressure, it’s a lot easier to understand now why women with high blood pressure have a 15 percent higher risk of breast cancer.

How to fend off high blood pressure and breast cancer right now

Now, all this scientific stuff about proteins connecting blood pressure and breast cancer is fascinating. But it won’t necessarily help you prevent breast cancer or high blood pressure in your day-to-day. Do you know what will?

A Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most scientifically proven diets for lower blood pressure. And according to some research, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts reduces the risk of breast cancer too.

Related: 5 supplements for naturally healthy blood pressure

So how do you start the diet that could keep you safe from these two connected diseases? By cutting out the following foods:

  • Added sugar
  • Refined grains
  • Trans fats
  • Refined oils (soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, etc.)
  • Processed meat
  • Highly processed foods

And replacing them with:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes
  • Tubers
  • Whole grains
  • Fish and seafood
  • Poultry (in moderation)
  •  Eggs (in moderation)
  • Dairy (in moderation)
  • Herbs and spices
  • Healthy Fats
  • Red meat (rarely)

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Scientists find biological link between high blood pressure and breast cancer — MedicalXpress

Abstract P2043: Role of GRK4, a Risk Factor for Hypertension, in Breast Cancer — Hypertension

High blood pressure dangers: Hypertension’s effects on your body — Mayo Clinic

High Blood Pressure Facts — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

High blood pressure and stroke — Stroke Association

Breast cancer prevention: How to reduce your risk — Mayo Clinic

Mediterranean-Style Diet Improves Systolic Blood Pressure and Arterial Stiffness in Older Adults — Hypertension

Mediterranean Diet 101: A Meal Plan and Beginner’s Guide — Healthline


Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.