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Oral bacteria may increase the risk of developing high blood pressure – new research

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Almost half of all individuals in the United States have hypertension, yet many are unaware. Hypertension is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

New research published today in the AHA found an association between certain oral bacteria and the development of hypertension, generally known as high blood pressure.

While earlier research has shown that persons with periodontal disease had higher blood pressure than those who do not, the researchers think this is the first prospective study to look at the link between mouth bacteria and the onset of hypertension.

The Buffalo Osteoporosis and Periodontal Disease Study in Buffalo, New York, included 1,215 postmenopausal women (average age 63 years old at study enrolment, between 1997 and 2001). Researchers took blood pressure readings and oral plaque samples from below the gum line, “where some bacteria keep the gum and tooth structures healthy, and others cause gum and periodontal disease,” according to LaMonte. They also took note of medication use, medical histories, and lifestyle choices to see if there was a link between oral bacteria and hypertension in older women.

About 35% (429) of the study participants had normal blood pressure at the time of recruitment, with readings below 120/80 mm Hg and no use of blood pressure medication. Nearly a quarter of the individuals (306) had high blood pressure, with readings above 120/80 mm Hg and no medication. About 40% of the individuals (480) were classified as having prevalent treated hypertension, which means they were diagnosed and treated for hypertension with medication.

The plaque samples contained 245 different bacteria strains, according to the researchers. During the 10-year follow-up period, about one-third of the women who did not have hypertension or were not being treated for hypertension at the start of the trial were diagnosed with high blood pressure.

The study revealed:

  • 10 bacteria were associated with a 10% to 16% higher risk of developing high blood pressure; and
  • five other kinds of bacteria were associated with a 9% to 18% lower hypertension risk.

Even when demographic, clinical, and lifestyle factors (such as older age, medication for high cholesterol, dietary consumption, and smoking) that influence the development of high blood pressure were taken into account, the results remained consistent.

The researchers looked at the potential correlations between the same 15 bacteria and hypertension risk in different categories, such as women under 65 versus those over 65, smokers versus nonsmokers, those with normal versus raised blood pressure at the start of the trial, and other comparisons. The results were consistent across all of the groups studied.

Image Credit: Getty

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