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One of the most interesting things about the human body is how the systems that keep us healthy are all intertwined.
To have a healthy brain, you have to have a healthy heart. For healthy lungs, your kidneys must function optimally to keep fluid buildup at bay.
And according to research published in Hypertension, an American Heart Association journal, to have healthy blood pressure you need a healthy gut.
The reason? It all comes down to how certain foods are metabolized in your gut — particularly flavonoids — which are known to have a very positive effect on lowering blood pressure levels.
But researchers from Queen’s University in Belfast found that the beneficial association between blood pressure and flavonoid-rich foods — including berries, red wine, apples and pears — doesn’t work the same for everyone… and the reason hinges on the characteristics of your gut microbiome.
The power of flavonoids in your health
Flavonoids are compounds found naturally in fruits, vegetables and plant-based foods such as tea, chocolate and wine, as well as the foods I just mentioned. Prior research has already proven them to be powerfully beneficial to your health.
In fact, studies have even shown that three specific flavonoids work to fend off dementia and keep your brain and your memory healthy.
Of course, when we eat flavonoid-rich foods, the nutrients, including the flavonoids, are broken down by the body’s gut microbiome — the colonies of bacteria found in your digestive tract. And recent research has found a link between the gut microbiome, the microorganisms in the digestive tract and cardiovascular disease.
Since the bacteria in our guts is highly variable from person to person, the researchers at Queen’s University wondered what impact that might have the blood pressure-lowering benefits of flavonoids.
So, they examined the association between eating flavonoid-rich foods with blood pressure and gut microbiome diversity…
Improved bacterial diversity equals healthy blood pressure
The researchers followed over 900 adults, evaluating their food intake, the state of their gut microbiome and their blood pressure levels. They also calculated how many flavonoid-rich foods each participant consumed in the past year, the number of daily calories and fiber consumed.
And the results were clear.
Flavonoids are the key to improved gut health and better blood pressure.
They found that:
- People who ate the most flavonoid-rich foods, including berries, red wine, apples and pears, had lower systolic blood pressure levels, as well as greater diversity in their gut microbiome than the participants who consumed the lowest levels of flavonoid-rich foods.
- Up to 15.2% of the association between flavonoid-rich foods and systolic blood pressure could be explained by the diversity found in participants’ gut microbiome.
- Eating just 1.6 servings of berries per day (one serving is approximately 1 cup) was associated with an average reduction in systolic blood pressure levels of 4.1 mm Hg, and about 12% of the association was explained by gut microbiome factors.
- Drinking 2.8 glasses of red wine a week was associated with an average of 3.7 mm Hg lower systolic blood pressure level, of which 15% could be explained by the gut microbiome.
Lead investigator of the study Aedín Cassidy, Ph.D. summed it up this way, “Our gut microbiome plays a key role in metabolizing flavonoids to enhance their cardioprotective effects, and this study provides evidence to suggest these blood pressure-lowering effects are achievable with simple changes to the daily diet.”
But, she added, “Our findings indicate future trials should look at participants according to metabolic profile in order to more accurately study the roles of metabolism and the gut microbiome in regulating the effects of flavonoids on blood pressure. A better understanding of the highly individual variability of flavonoid metabolism could very well explain why some people have greater cardiovascular protection benefits from flavonoid-rich foods than others.”
Obviously, adding more flavonoids to your diet is a good idea, if you aim to keep your blood pressure in check.
But a cool thing about many of these flavonoid-rich foods, like berries, apples and pears, is that they are excellent sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber which can help fulfill the other half of the equation as well — promoting the diversity of your gut. So, the secret to the successful connection between flavonoids, lower blood pressure and gut diversity is just more of the same: flavonoids.
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