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Whole Grains, Bran May Fight Hypertension in Men

Men, want to keep high blood pressure at bay? Try reaching for whole grains.

That's the message from a Harvard study that found that whole grain foods and foods high in bran bring a boost to heart health. Although this study is among men, data from the Women's Health Study found similar results, the researchers say.

"Whole grains as a part of a prudent, balanced diet may help promote cardiovascular health," said lead researcher Dr. Alan J. Flint, project director at Harvard School of Public Health of the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, on which the new analysis was based. "Higher intake of whole grains was associated with a lower risk of hypertension in our cohort of over 31,000 men," Flint said.

The report is published in the September issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

For the study, Flint's team collected data on 31,684 men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. When these men were enrolled in the study, none had high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease or had had a stroke.

During 18 years of follow-up, over 9,200 men developed high blood pressure. The researchers found that men who ate the highest amount of whole grains were 19 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure compared with men who ate the least amount of whole grains.

In addition, men who ate the most bran reduced their risk of developing high blood pressure by 15 percent compared with men who ate the least bran, the study found.

Flint noted that these findings remained even after adjusting their data for other healthy lifestyle and diet factors. "When the associations persist despite these adjustments, as in the current analysis, it supports the conclusion that it is not due to these other factors," he said.

There have been several suggestions as to why whole grains seem to have an effect on blood pressure. These include improved insulin sensitivity, reduced food intake, lower blood sugar, better control of high blood pressure and less need for blood pressure medications, the researchers noted.

The authors say the findings could help in evaluating diet guidelines to help lower blood pressure.

Connecticut-based nutritionist Samantha Heller agreed that whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet.

"Whole grains have nutrients and antioxidants that are important for good health and they help manage insulin response," Heller said. "People who eat whole grains seem to have lower incidents of diseases like diabetes," she said.

Since whole grains also help manage weight, they seem to reduce the risk of heart disease, she said.

However, Dr. Harlan M. Krumholz, the Harold H. Hines, Jr. Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale University School of Medicine doesn't think this finding has any implications for dietary guidelines.

"This epidemiologic study is an interesting academic study but lacks any policy implications," Krumholz said. "We do not know whether enriching your diet with fiber will have any benefit on the development of hypertension," he said.
SOURCES: Alan J. Flint, M.D., Dr.P.H., Project Director, Health Professionals Follow-up Study, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Samantha Heller, R.D., C.D.N., registered dietitian, clinical nutritionist, exercise physiologist, Fairfield, Conn.; Harlan M. Krumholz, M.D., Harold H. Hines Jr. Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; September 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Published on: August 28, 2009