UT researchers win grant to study connection between gut bacteria, high blood pressure

9/10/2018
BY LAUREN LINDSTROM
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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    Researchers at the University of Toledo were recently awarded a four-year, $2.6 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for further study into blood pressure.

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  • Bacteria in your gut — millions of microorganisms found in the intestines — could help unlock key information about how to better regulate and prevent high blood pressure.

    Researchers at the University of Toledo were recently awarded a four-year, $2.6 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for further study. The big question: How gut bacteria, dictated by inherited genes and changed by environmental choices such diet, affects blood pressure.

    Bina Joe, chair of the University of Toledo's Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and director of the Center for Hypertension and Precision Medicine, was recently awarded a $2.6 million grant to study how gut bacteria affect high blood pressure.
    Bina Joe, chair of the University of Toledo's Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and director of the Center for Hypertension and Precision Medicine, was recently awarded a $2.6 million grant to study how gut bacteria affect high blood pressure.

    “There are very few groups working with this idea, so we are really pioneering [it] in the U.S.,” said Bina Joe, chair of UT’s Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and director of the Center for Hypertension and Personalized Medicine.

    Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a critical health concern affecting millions of Americans, Ms. Joe said.

    New American Heart Association guidelines have lowered what is considered hypertensive. What used to be categorized as normal — 120/80 mm Hg — is now elevated. Blood pressure of 130/80 mm Hg and above is considered hypertensive. Under those guidelines, she said, 64 percent of Ohio adults are now considered to have high blood pressure.

    High blood pressure increases risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease. Even with medication, those with hypertension have already sustained damage to organs such as their kidneys, heart, and blood vessels.

    Ms. Joe’s lab and co-investigators with the University of Toledo-Microbiome Consortium are focusing on how the combination of microorganisms found in the intestines play a role in blood pressure.

    “Anything that destroys your bacteria such as salt, which is hugely connected to blood pressure regulation, or antibiotics, they all disturb a person’s blood pressure,” she said. Earlier studies showed intestinal bacteria clearly influences blood pressure, and further research looks to find how and why.

    “We proposed that a person is like an ecosystem with millions of bacteria and together, with the [person’s] genetics, are somehow interacting to control one’s blood pressure,” she said.

    Among the UT research team’s areas of study is beta hydroxybutyrate, a chemical that increases in the body with exercise and decreases with salt consumption. 

    Ms. Joe said further research could one day lead to a medication that could help people with hypertension who cannot exercise still benefit from the chemical’s blood pressure-lowering effects, though testing now is only on animals.

    Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.