Under pressure: The link between belly fat, blood pressure and food responses revealed

26th October 2022 – By Paz García

Red cartoon heart underneath a semicircle of dots going from green on the left side to red on the right side. A dial from the heart is pointing towards the red side.

In a world first, a team of researchers led by TwinsUK has found that people with high blood pressure take longer and work harder to clear fats from the blood after meals and have higher levels of inflammation after eating. 

The research, published today in Nutrients, identified that this link is in large part due to visceral fat – the kind that wraps around your organs in your belly. 

This suggests that reducing belly fat could be particularly important in improving the body’s responses to food in people with high blood pressure. 

First author and TwinsUK researcher Panayiotis Louca said: 

“People with high blood pressure are more likely to have higher levels of visceral fat than people with normal blood pressure. Our study found that this visceral fat is indeed responsible for a considerable amount of the difference we see in blood fats and insulin levels between these two groups after meals.” 

The research was part of ongoing analysis of data collected during the PREDICT study, where 1,000 participants – including several hundred TwinsUK members – had their bodies’ responses to food measured over a two-week period. 

Previous studies have shown that people with high blood pressure have higher baseline levels of blood fats, insulin and inflammation compared with people with normal blood pressure, and higher blood fats following a fatty meal. The present study however was the first to investigate and compare responses between the two groups following a nutritionally balanced meal. 

Senior author and TwinsUK researcher Dr Cristina Menni said: 

“We’d like to thank all of the participants who spent a full day in clinic and then two weeks meticulously logging their meals and collecting blood samples at home. It’s because of your dedication that we are able to advance health research.” 

Louca et al. Postprandial responses to a standardised meal in hypertension: the mediatory role of visceral fat mass. Nutrients 2022

Could the DASH diet help reduce high blood pressure?

11th November 2021 – By Aaruthy Suthahar

photo of vegetables, fruits and nuts

In a recent study, TwinsUK researchers found that following the DASH diet was linked with reduced blood pressure and that this may be as a result of a simultaneous reduction in weight.  

High blood pressure is a very common although adaptable risk factor for heart disease and deaths worldwide. Risk factors for high blood pressure include both genetic predisposition and environmental or lifestyle factors, such as diet, alcohol use, and inactive behaviour. The DASH diet – which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – consists of foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and low-fat dairy products, and aims to reduce the consumption of red meats and full-fat dairy products.

The DASH diet was developed to combine the effects of many foods and nutrients that have been shown to help lower blood pressure and has been supported by several successful clinical trials. Some countries, including the USA and many European countries, advocate the DASH diet as a suitable nutritional approach for preventing high blood pressure. 

In this present study, the TwinsUK researchers found that body mass index (BMI) is the link between the DASH diet and changes in high blood pressure. The team also identified six molecules in the blood linked with the DASH diet and BMI, indicating shared metabolic pathways.  

The researchers included 2,424 female participants from the TwinsUK cohort with blood pressure and BMI measurements and food intake data. The team investigated the relationship between adherence to a DASH diet and blood pressure in the volunteers.  

One limitation of the research is that the study looked at data only from women and at one specific time point. This means it is difficult to make an accurate conclusion about whether or how the DASH diet reduces blood pressure without further clinical studies.  

First author Panayiotis Louca said: 

“Our study presents novel insights into the relationship between the DASH diet, high blood pressure, and BMI. Further studies should be done to look into the underlying molecular mechanisms to improve our understanding of how to treat high blood pressure.” 

Senior author Cristina Menni said: 

“The team highlight that the findings further our knowledge of the molecular mechanisms at play and may be relevant in developing dietary guidelines for preventing high blood pressure, for future global health.” 

Louca et al. 2021. Body mass index mediates the effect of the DASH diet on hypertension: Common metabolites underlying the association. The Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 

Researchers identify three nutrients with major effects on blood pressure

10th August 2020 – by Paz García

Going to work on an egg may be a good idea after all, as new research from TwinsUK has found that key nutrients in certain foods – including eggs – are linked with lower blood pressure.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can lead to increased risk of heart disease and stroke. An estimated 1.5 billion people will be affected by hypertension by 2025, and so researchers want to understand how we can reduce high blood pressure back to a healthy level.

Many previous studies have shown that certain foods can affect blood pressure, and the TwinsUK team wanted to explore this further and understand specifically which nutrients in foods are linked with blood pressure.

The team analysed blood pressure data and food frequency questionnaires of over 3,800 TwinsUK participants who don’t use blood pressure medication. The researchers also studied an additional group of identical twin pairs with large differences in blood pressure.

The team found 15 nutrients were associated with blood pressure, even after taking into account other factors such as age, sex and body mass index (BMI).

Three key nutrients however were linked with the largest effect on blood pressure:

1. Alcohol: This had the worst effect on blood pressure, and the more you drink, the higher your blood pressure.

2. Riboflavin: Also known as vitamin B2, this nutrient is found in milk and egg products and can reduce blood pressure.

3. Tryptophan: This nutrient is found in meat products and soybeans and can reduce blood pressure.

First author Panayiotis Louca explained the next steps for this research:

“Our results are further evidence that diet is closely linked with blood pressure. We now need clinical trials to test how different people respond to a modified diet and how it impacts blood pressure. ”

Senior author Cristina Menni said:

“Before we can encourage people to eat more of a certain food to reduce blood pressure, we need to understand how exactly different nutrients affect our blood vessels and blood pressure. Our work supports the need for further research to understand how we could use diet as a tool for preventing and treating hypertension. ”

Louca, P. et al. Dietary influence on systolic and diastolic blood pressure in the TwinsUK cohort. Nutrients, 2020.

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