Gut Microbes from a High Fiber Diet May Lower Blood Pressure

As someone recently diagnosed with chronic high blood pressure, I’ve been looking for ways to lower my blood pressure myself through lifestyle changes.  I still haven’t taken the blood pressure medication I was prescribed, and I know I’ll hear about that from my doctor at my next checkup, but I’d prefer not to be dependent upon medication for the rest of my life, if I can help it.

I’ve been checking my blood pressure regularly at home and keeping a record of it and of course if it’s consistently high, I’ll take the medicine but boy I sure don’t want to.

This isn’t to encourage anyone with high blood pressure to not take their  medication or stop taking it. I’m definitely not advocating you do that.  I’m just giving myself some time to lower my blood pressure without medicine, if I can.

I’ve had high blood pressure before but was able to bring it down to very good numbers by losing weight.  That’s why I developed such an interest in fitness trackers. They were so instrumental in me losing over 50 pounds about 3 years ago and they continue to allow me keep an eye on my resting heart rate which is an important gauge on my heart health.

Now I also need to concentrate on my diet because exercise hasn’t been enough to keep all the weight off.  Like I’ve always heard and you probably have too, you can’t make up for a bad diet with exercise. I’ve found that to be true in many ways.

So, I have been looking for ways to lower my blood pressure without medication and I found an interesting study a few days ago regarding the role fiber plays and thought I’d share what I learned.

Probably most of us know that a diet high in fiber is good for the heart (and digestive system).  Boxes of Cheerios have been telling us this for years. Although there are cereals that have much more fiber than Cheerios.

I never stopped to wonder why fiber is good for the heart, other than people that tend to eat healthier diets tend to be of a healthy weight, more health conscious in general, and physically active.  All those things are extremely important in having a healthy heart but we may also have a whole army inside us that helps too.

Our intestines are ecosystems for living microorganisms and lots of them.  There may be 10s of trillions of microorganisms in our intestines and we need them to help digest food properly.

After a strong round of antibiotics, you may have experienced the unpleasant results of having good bacteria in your intestines and elsewhere in your body killed off such as diarrhea and yeast infections – what fun!

And while it’s been well understood for a number of years of how “good” bacteria helps us digest food properly, new studies are also pointing to other benefits of having a healthy composition of microorganisms in our intestines and that’s the role they play in lowering blood pressure.

The fatty acid acetate, a product of the process of fermentation of fiber in our gut, produces molecular changes that benefit the heart according to a study appearing in the American Heart Association Journal.  Marques et al, 2017. This study was done on mice so hopefully human studies will be forthcoming but still the findings were  very interesting.

The study discussed that there appears to be a strong link between a high fiber diet and the “composition of gut microorganisms” and the level of acetate. Increased amounts of acetate in the gut had the effect of lowering blood pressure through molecular changes in the body.  Hopefully, I’m not oversimplifying this.  Remember I’m not a doctor or molecular scientist.

Luckily, I don’t have to be either to add fiber to my diet because fiber is found in a number of foods and most of them are foods you don’t have to force down your throat with a grimace.  Many fruits are high in fiber and these aren’t exotic fruits that are difficult to find in a small town grocery store.

Fruits high in fiber are raspberries, bananas, oranges, apples and many others. Dark colored vegetables and even potatoes are good sources of fiber, as well many types of beans.  (See a full list.)

So, there’s really no excuse not to include more fiber in our diets.  You don’t have to prepare complicated meals or learn a whole new way of cooking.  Eating Raisin Bran for breakfast, a banana or an apple here and there and making sure you eat your veggies is about as simple as it gets.

The study didn’t indicate how much fiber is needed to lower blood pressure.  More studies are needed but the health benefits of fiber appear to be many and in ways I hadn’t considered before.

For more information, read the study here.

If you would like to keep an eye on your blood pressure at home, below are a couple of good options.  I happen to use the Omron 3 Series Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor (view on Amazon) and it’s been doing a very good job for me.

And from the looks of my blood pressure, I’m going to need to eat about 10 boxes of Raisin Bran a day or start taking my medicine.

Omron Series 3 Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor
Omron Series 3 Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor

I’m also going to be reviewing some new blood pressure watches soon and I’ll update this post with links to those reviews when they’re ready.

References

Francine Z. Marques, Erin Nelson, Po-Yin Chu, Duncan Horlock, April Fiedler, Mark Ziemann, Jian K. Tan, Sanjaya Kuruppu, Niwanthi W. Rajapakse, Assam El-Osta, Charles R. Mackay and David M. Kaye. High-Fiber Diet and Acetate Supplementation Change the Gut Microbiota and Prevent the Development of Hypertension and Heart Failure in Hypertensive Mice. . https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.116.024545