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Protein for hypertension: the whey to go?

Dairy has been linked to lower blood pressure. But can a high intake of whey protein, without the rest of the dairy components, show a benefit as well?

Study under review: Whey protein lowers blood pressure and improves endothelial function and lipid biomarkers in adults with prehypertension and mild hypertension: results from the chronic Whey2Go randomized controlled trial

Introduction

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one factor that contributes significantly to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Blood pressure is usually reported in two numbers. For example, a reading of 120/80 mm Hg. The first number, systolic blood pressure, tells us how much pressure your blood is exerting against the arterial walls when your heart contracts. The second number signifies how much pressure your blood is exerting when the heart is relaxed and being refilled with blood. Blood pressure is generally divided into four categories:

  • Normal - ≤120/80

  • Prehypertension – 120-139/80-89

  • Hypertension Stage 1 – 140-159/90-99

  • Hypertension Stage 2 – ≥160/100

For people with hypertension or those who take blood pressure-lowering medication, the lifetime risk at age 30 for developing CVD is 37.3% higher than for people with normal blood pressure[1] (absolute risk of 46.1% vs. 63.3%). These patients with hypertension also developed CVD five years earlier[1], comparatively. Chronic high blood pressure also creates health concerns (detailed in Figure 1) such as increased risk of stroke and organ damage.

Figure 1: Complications of high blood pressure

Clinically, even a small two to five mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure can noticeably reduce[2] CVD and total mortality. Observational trials have demonstrated mixed results when looking at associations[3] between increased protein intake and a decrease in blood pressure. But RCTs have more consistently shown a modest benefit - particularly when the protein intake offsets some carbohydrate in the diet. Dairy foods, in addition to their protein content, may be able to provide additional benefits through their nutrient profile, which could further help reduce blood pressure. Getting adequate amounts of calcium, magnesium[4],[4] and potassium[4] can also reduce blood pressure. Dairy products can be a good source of all three. Furthermore, dairy intake seems to correlate[5] with small reductions in blood pressure. Since milk contains both protein and minerals, this raises the question of whether the protein in milk alone could lead to these reductions. The present study sought to further investigate the potential acute and chronic effects of two common dairy proteins, whey and calcium caseinate (Ca caseinate), on blood pressure and vascular function in people with high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a large contributing factor to CVD that could see potential mitigation through increased protein intake. The present study examines the acute and chronic effects of whey and casein on blood pressure and vascular function in people with high blood pressure.

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