Grapes May Fight High Blood Pressure

Study Shows Antioxidants in Grapes May Be a Weapon in Blood Pressure Battle

By Bill Hendrick

grapesfighthbpA hardy helping of grapes may fight high blood pressure and heart disease if you eat a salty diet, a new University of Michigan study shows. Because black, green, and red grapes contain high levels of naturally occurring antioxidants, the fruits may reduce hypertension that can lead to heart failure, shows the study, published in the Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences.

Scientists including Mitchell Seymour, MS, report that flavonoids -- found in abundance in the skin, flesh, and seeds of grapes -- may be the substances that provide the beneficial effects they found in their study of laboratory rats.

Grapes and High Blood Pressure

The researchers studied the effects of regular table grapes -- a blend of green, red, and black fruits -- that were fed to rats in powdered form. After 18 weeks, rats that ate the grape-enriched powder had lower blood pressure, better heart function, and reduced inflammation throughout their bodies than comparable rodents that didn't receive the mixture. Rats on salty diets plus hydralazine, a blood pressure medicine, had lower blood pressure, but their hearts weren't as protected from damage as the animals fed grapes.

"These findings support our theory that something within the grapes themselves has a direct impact on cardiovascular risk, beyond the simple blood-pressure-lowering impact that we already know can come from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables," says Seymour, who manages the University of Michigan Cardioprotection Research Laboratory.

Steven Bolling, MD, who heads the program, says the rats in the study were in a similar situation as millions of Americans who have high blood pressure related to their diets and who develop heart failure because of prolonged hypertension. "The inevitable downhill sequence to hypertension and heart failure was changed by the addition of grape powder to a high-salt diet," Bolling says. "Although there are many natural compounds in the grape powder itself that may have an effect, the things that we think are having an effect against the hypertension may be the flavonoids, either by direct antioxidant effects, by indirect effects on cell function, or both."

Such naturally occurring substances already have been shown to reduce other potentially harmful molecular and cellular activity, the researchers say in a news release. The study notes that grapes and other fruits high in antioxidant phytochemials show promise, as does research on the impact of red wine on heart health.

Still, the best advice for people with blood pressure problems is to cut down on the amount of salt they get, Bolling says.

"There is, as we know, a great variability, perhaps genetic even, in sensitivity to salt causing hypertension," he says. "Some people are very sensitive to salt intake, some are only moderately so, and there are perhaps some people who are salt resistant. But in general we say, 'Stay away from excess salt.'"