Women: Whole Grains May Prevent High Blood Pressure

Healthnotes Newswire (September 6, 2007)—Oatmeal in the morning and brown rice for dinner—this could be the recipe for healthy blood pressure. A new study found that women who eat whole grains are less likely to develop high blood pressure (hypertension) than those who don’t.

Whole grains are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and plant chemicals that have antioxidant and other beneficial properties. In addition to providing carbohydrate calories, whole grains contain small amounts of protein and polyunsaturated fats. These beneficial nutrients are found predominantly in the grains’ germ and bran layers. Refined grains are stripped of both the germ and bran, leaving only the most calorie-dense and nutrient-poor inner portion. Some refined-grain products, especially white flour, are fortified to restore some of the vitamins that were lost in processing, but only a few of the many different nutrients are added back in.

People who eat whole grains generally have lower cholesterol levels and are less likely to develop diabetes and some cancers, most notably breast and colon cancers. Several studies have also linked eating whole grains to a low risk of high blood pressure. The largest of these, known as DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) showed that a healthy diet emphasizing whole-grain cereal products can lower blood pressure in people with and without hypertension.

The large body of evidence that whole grains are important to a healthy diet has led to their inclusion in the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends that at least half of the grains eaten daily be whole grains, and that at least three servings of whole grains or whole-grain products be eaten every day.

The new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, tracked almost 29,000 women age 45 and older who were participating in the Women’s Health Study. These women had no known heart disease, cancer, or hypertension at the beginning of the study and were followed for ten years.

During the follow-up period, the incidence of hypertension decreased with the more whole grains eaten. Compared with women who ate less than 0.5 servings of whole grains per day, those who ate more than four servings per day were 23% less likely to have hypertension at the end of the study. The major sources of whole grains were bread, popcorn, and cold cereal.

“These data offer support to the USDA recommendations for increasing whole-grain consumption for the prevention of hypertension,” the researchers stated in their conclusion. “Because hypertension remains a highly prevalent disease affecting up to 50 million people in the United States, even a modest reduction in hypertension risk on an individual level will substantially lower the population-wide disease burden.”

(Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:472–9)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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