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Eating more protein from a variety of sources may reduce the risk of high blood pressure

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According to new study published today in Hypertension, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Heart Association, eating a balanced diet that includes protein from a wider range of sources may help individuals reduce their risk of developing high blood pressure.

Nearly half of the population in the United States has hypertension, or high blood pressure, which is one of the primary causes of cardiovascular disease. When left untreated, high blood pressure harms the circulatory system and is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and other health problems.

“Nutrition may be a simple and efficient method of combating hypertension. Protein, along with fat and carbs, is one of the three main macronutrients “Xianhui Qin, M.D., of the National Clinical Research Center for Kidney Disease at Nanfang Hospital, Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, was the study’s lead author.

Poor nutrition quality is strongly linked to an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality from cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating healthy sources of protein, largely from plants, and may include seafood and low-fat or fat-free dairy products, as well as lean cuts and unprocessed types of meat or chicken, in its 2021 dietary advice to promote cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association suggests consuming one to two servings of protein each day, or 5.5 ounces.

The researchers examined health data from over 12,200 Chinese people who participated in at least two of the seven rounds of the China Health and Nutrition Survey from 1997 to 2015. (surveys taken every 2-4 years). The original survey of participants was utilized as a baseline, and data from their most recent round was used as a follow-up for comparison. The average age of the participants was 41 years, and 47 percent were males. Dietary consumption was assessed by three consecutive 24-hour dietary recalls and a home food inventory. During each round of the survey, a professional interviewer obtained 24-hour dietary information across three days in the same week.

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Participants were assigned a protein “variety score” based on the number of various protein sources consumed out of the eight reported: whole grains, refined grains, processed red meat, unprocessed red meat, chicken, fish, egg, and legumes. Each source of protein received one point, with a maximum diversity score of eight. The researchers next looked at the relationship between protein variety and new-onset hypertension.

New-onset hypertension was defined as having a systolic (top number) blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mm Hg and/or a diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure greater than or equal to 90 mm Hg, taking blood pressure medication, or self-reporting that a physician diagnosed high blood pressure since their last survey visit. The average duration between follow-ups was 6 years.

The investigation discovered:

  • During the follow-up period, more than 35% of the almost 12,200 patients acquired new-onset high blood pressure.
  • Participants with the greatest variety score for protein consumption (4 or above) had a 66 percent decreased chance of developing high blood pressure compared to those with the lowest variety score (less than 2).
  • There was a window of intake quantity for each of the eight protein categories where the risk of hypertension was decreased. This was defined by researchers as the optimal level of intake.
  • When total protein consumption was assessed, it was classified into five groups (quintiles), from least to highest intake. People who ate the least total protein and those who ate the most protein had the greatest chance of developing hypertension for the first time.

“The heart health message is that adopting a balanced diet containing proteins from a variety of sources, rather than relying on a single source of dietary protein,” Qin said.

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The study’s observational approach is one of its limitations. Because the researchers relied on past health data, they were unable to definitely verify that protein consumption of any sort or amount caused or avoided new-onset hypertension.

The work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Nanfang Hospital Outstanding Youth Development Scheme, the Nanfang Hospital Clinical Research Program, and Southern Medical University.

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