The Link Between Plant-Sourced Proteins and Blood Pressure

PLANT PROTEIN

Amino acids may form the foundation of all proteins; however, only a select few hold the potential to lower blood pressure. Read on to learn how these particular building blocks pave the way towards lower hypertension and better overall health.

As Always, Diet and Lifestyle Play Roles

As medical research has demonstrated, hypertension – high blood pressure – comes about from a combination of both genetic and lifestyle factors. What we eat plays a pivotal role. Diets favoring a high salt/sugar content, and very few antioxidants, more often than not lead to hypertension. A recent study revealed a strong connection between glutamic acid, an amino acid found in greater amounts in vegetable protein, and lower blood pressure in humans. This makes sense when we take into account the abundant health benefits already associated with a plant-based diet, and plant sources of protein in particular.

This noteworthy data may explain the value in following the DASH Diet, and its success in reducing blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and stresses a meal plan consisting of lower sodium, fewer processed foods, and an abundance of vegetables, whole grains, and beans.

Small Changes, Great Gains

The study further found that of all the building blocks that make up proteins, glutamic acid played the most dominant role. This amino acid figured prominently in almost a quarter of all the proteins consumed by those subjects adhering to a plant-based protein menu, yet only comprised 18% in the group who consumed animal sources of protein.

While the reduction in blood pressure associated with the vegetable protein component may appear relatively small, such subtle alterations can have a profound difference in one’s health.

“It is estimated that reducing a population’s average systolic blood pressure by 2 [points] could cut stroke death rates by 6% and reduce mortality from coronary heart disease by 4%,” says researcher Jeremiah Stamler, MD, professor emeritus in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.

The Unique Amino Acid Stars

The specific amino acids that confer anti-hypertensive effects do so through a variety of mechanisms and pathways, both in the human and the animal models. Cysteine, glutathione (a tripeptide), glutamate, and arginine attenuate and help thwart insulin resistance, decrease nitric oxide bioavailability, alter renin-angiotensin system function, and lower oxidative stress–all common precursors to the development of hypertension. Leucine improves insulin resistance by modulating gluconeogenesis occurring in the liver. Taurine and tryptophan attenuate sympathetic nervous system activity. The high arginine content and antioxidant activity of soy-based protein sources, too, help lower blood pressure. Many vegetarians and vegans rely heavily on soy to meet their daily protein demands.

The famous scientist Linus Pauling developed a procedure to attenuate and manage heart disease. His format included the use of the amino acid lysine. In his own words, Pauling described the outcome of his experiments: “When there are extra amounts of lysine and proline in blood, the lipoprotein-(a) attachment sites get obstructed by lysine, creating a ‘Teflon-like’ coating around the lipoprotein particles and hence prevents the lipoprotein-(a) from binding to the arterial walls. Therefore, lysine prevents plaque build-up and then initiates the setback of plaque deposits and invariably prevents pressure build-up in the arteries and hence reduce hypertension.”

Variety (Not Just Origin) of Proteins Matters

A study led by Dr. Xianhui Qin, M.D., at the Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, investigated the link between the variety of protein sources in one’s meal plan and the beginning of elevated blood pressure. The authors found that eating protein from many diverse sources could help lower the risk of high blood pressure by as much as 50%.

Dr. Qin suspected to find these results. “We speculated that consuming a greater variety of proteins in proper quantity could guarantee the intake of different essential amino acids, which may correlate with better nutritional status, microbiota richness, and diversity,” he says.

From Lowering Blood Pressure to Attenuating Cardiovascular Risks

An epidemiological study of 4,680 participants ranging in age from 40 to 59 years, and hailing from four countries, studied systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings. The groups met four times throughout the duration of the study, recording blood pressure readings a total of eight times. At each of the four appointments, individuals noted their dietary intake based on a 24-hour recall, including supplements.

Data points clearly showed that vegetable protein intake inversely correlated to elevated blood pressure. This finding further supports earlier evidence of how a diet high in vegetable products promotes a healthy lifestyle, especially concerning the prevention of high blood pressure and the myriad of potential health hazards associated with hypertension.

Understanding Arterial Stiffness

Select amino acids, again those typically found in plant-based foods/protein sources, may also prove beneficial in other measures of arterial health, according to a study out of the University of East Anglia and King’s College London.

Once again, researchers drew a link between levels of dietary arginine, cysteine, glutamic acid, glycine, histidine, leucine, and tyrosine and significant improvements in peripheral and central blood pressure.

“These novel data suggest that intake of selected amino acids is associated with arterial stiffness and central blood pressure, with significant associations observed for [pulse wave velocity] and [central systolic blood pressure]​ similar in magnitude to established lifestyle risk factors for hypertension, such as physical activity, not smoking, and reduced intake of sodium and alcohol,” ​ researchers presented in the Journal of Nutrition.

Furthermore, they foresee great potential for lowering overall cardiovascular disease risks: “The intake of amino acids associated with lower arterial stiffness and central blood pressure is easily achievable in the habitual diet, making these findings very relevant for public health strategies to reduce cardiovascular disease risk.”

Coaching Hypertensive Clients

Across the country, pharmacists regularly fill prescriptions for medications to lower blood pressure; many individuals take more than one such medication. When training a client with hypertension, in addition to making the requisite tweaks in his workout, you may try to sneak in some dialogue about the benefits of sometimes choosing plant-based proteins instead of poultry/red meat. After a while, this might just evolve into a new culinary lifestyle habit!


References:

https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2015/07/28/Amino-acids-may-improve-arterial-health-and-blood-pressure-Study

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5715058/

https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/145/9/2130/4616089

https://bmcnutr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40795-017-0187-6

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/409499

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2949991/

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/409499#ref-ioi50176-43

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/hypertension-protein-variety-may-be-key

https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/hypertensionaha.115.06624

https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/news/20090706/vegetable-protein-lowers-blood-pressure

About

Cathleen Kronemer is an NFPT CEC writer and a member of the NFPT Certification Council Board. Cathleen is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, ACE-Certified Health Coach, former competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for over three decades. Feel free to contact her at [email protected] She welcomes your feedback and your comments!