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7 Key Hypertension Breakthroughs Made in 2020

 Despite the overwhelming coverage of the Novel Coronavirus pandemic and its many aspects by the majority of medical news outlets, we’re here to tell you that Covid-19 was not the only topic investigated by medical researchers this year. However, these new discoveries did often fly under the radar, which is a real shame. In this article, we’ve condensed 7 key medical studies investigating one of the most widespread health issues of contemporary life, the so-called “silent killer” - hypertension. Here is what researchers discovered about high blood pressure in 2020.

1. Hypertension in seniors

Hypertension News 2020 measuring blood pressure
Is hypertension always bad in older adults? The majority of research says ‘yes’, as the condition is known to increase a person’s risk of stroke and heart attack, but one 10-year study published in the journal Age and Ageing this year looked at the connection between high blood pressure and mortality rates in 415,980 seniors and discovered that hypertension in older people may not be the clear-cut predictor of bad health we consider it to be now.
As the authors pointed out in the study, “Hypertension was not associated with increased mortality at ages above 85 or at ages 75–84 with moderate-severe frailty, perhaps due to complexities of coexisting morbidities”. Essentially, the researchers found that seniors with hypertension and moderate to severe frailty actually had a 16% reduced mortality risk.
Needless to say, that doesn’t mean that you should stop taking your blood pressure medication if you’re 75 or older, but it sure does provide much-needed emotional relief to those who suffer from the condition and their relatives.

2. The surprising connection between thigh size and blood pressure

Hypertension News 2020 woman measuring her thigh
As you may or may not know, an apple-shaped body and a large waist circumference are associated with a higher risk of hypertension and other dangerous health conditions. Previous research suggests that waist measurements of 102 cm and more in men and 88 cm in women are likely to develop the condition.
When it comes to thigh measurements, though, the opposite seems to be true, at least that’s what a study published in the journal Endocrine Connections in April found. The research investigated the connection between thigh circumference and blood pressure in 9,520 people. According to the study, participants that were diagnosed as overweight or obese had a lower chance to develop high blood pressure when they had a larger thigh size.
We are yet to find out what accounts for these surprising findings, but the authors of the study suggest the following, “The most likely cause of this association is that there is more thigh muscle or fat deposited under the skin which secretes various beneficial substances that help keep blood pressure in a relatively stable range.”

3. Specific blood pressure medications prevent lung damage in people with severe Covid-19

Hypertension News 2020 health examination
We previously touched upon the cardiac complications of Covid-19, but the association between the virus and cardiovascular issues isn’t all bad news. In fact, several studies have suggested at this point that one specific group of blood pressure medication may actually protect Covid-19 patients from complications.
The medications in question are renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) inhibitors, which are active in the same area of the cell membrane through which SARS-CoV-2 enters the cells. Initially, researchers feared that these medications may increase the risk of severe Covid-19, but upon further investigation, studies conclude that the opposite seems to be true.
In fact, according to a handful of studies, RAAS inhibitors could prevent lung injuries brought about by Covid-19. One large review study, for example, pointed out that “On the contrary, we found that there was a significantly lower risk of death and critical outcomes, so they might, in fact, have a protective role — particularly in patients with hypertension.”
In any case, if you’re taking RAAS inhibitors to treat hypertension, you needn’t worry about it increasing your risk of developing a severe form of Covid-19. Furthermore, at this point, there is no convincing evidence to suggest that having hypertension enhances the risk of catching or having severe Covid-19.

4. High blood pressure increase dementia risk in most adults

Hypertension News 2020 man difficult to concentrate
Unfortunately, researchers also learned this year that developing hypertension increases the probability of having dementia later in life, no matter your age. The research in question appeared in the journal Hypertension and it followed and measured the cognitive function and blood pressure of over 6,000 participants in Brazil over the course of 4 years.
Having hypertension seems to speed up the process of cognitive decline. According to the author of the study, Sandhi Maria Barreto, PhD, “We initially anticipated that the negative effects of hypertension on cognitive function would be more critical when hypertension started at a younger age. However, our results show similar accelerated cognitive performance decline whether hypertension started in middle age or at older ages.”
The cognitive decline occurs because the brain depends on blood vessels to feed nerve cells and clear up any waste materials that could potentially affect brain functioning, including the plaques that occur in Alzheimer’s. Since high blood pressure increases the risk of stroke and impairs all of the above-listed processes in the brain, it leads to cognitive decline.
But there is a silver lining - the researchers also found that early diagnosis and effective treatment helps reduce or prevent the acceleration of cognitive decline completely. So, make sure to treat hypertension to keep the brain healthy and happy.

5. Taking daily bath benefits cardiovascular health

Hypertension News 2020 bathtub
We all know that a hot bath can do wonders for reducing stress, but the positive health effects of hot baths seem to extend to cardiovascular health as well. According to a large Japanese article published in the journal Heart, frequent baths improve blood circulation and reduce hypertension in the long run.
This study involved over 30 thousand participants over the course of 20 years, and the researchers observed a 28% decreased risk of cardiovascular issues and a 26% lower risk of a heart event in daily bathers compared to those who took baths less frequently. The water temperature seems to matter, too, as the study states that bathing in hot water reduced the risk of cardiovascular issues to 35%, as opposed to only 26% in warm water. To read more about this fascinating study, read our article Taking a Daily Bath Can Benefit Cardiovascular Health.

6. Dairy can protect the blood vessels from hypertension

Hypertension News 2020 bread with butter
We’re so used to limiting our intake of dairy since we’ve been told time and time again that it can clog up the arteries and lead to high blood pressure, but one nutrition study published in 2020 challenges this idea. The study was published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, and it looked at data from nearly 150,000 participants.
The study looked at the effect of dairy consumption on cardiovascular health specifically, and surprisingly, the article concludes that eating more whole fat dairy, so things like butter, cream, and whole fat milk are actually capable of lowering one’s risk of hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.
So, for those of you who love dairy and can tolerate lactose, this study is great news. A similar study also found back in 2017 that chocolate can be beneficial for hypertension and may even prevent cardiovascular issues - take a look at the details in the article Dark Chocolate Can Be Beneficial for Heart Health.

7. Traffic noise may raise one’s risk of high blood pressure

Hypertension News 2020 Traffic
The last very surprising study we’ll feature in this article concerns traffic noise. Yes, unfortunately, the sounds of traffic do seem to be not just annoying, but also quite harmful for our physical wellbeing. That’s the conclusion of a Canadian research paper published in 2020 in the Journal of the American Heart Association. The data was collected from more than 1 million adult Toronto residents over the course of 15 years.
The research points out that there may be serious long-term repercussions to elevated traffic noise, namely an increased risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure, even after the authors controlled for air pollution and other confounding factors. According to the results, each 10-decibel rise in chronic traffic noise also raises the risk of diabetes by 8% and the risk of hypertension by 2%.
As Hong Chen, the senior author of the study, pointed out this may have to do with stress and poor sleep induced by traffic sounds. The stress response could then lead to metabolic problems and insulin resistance over time, which can culminate in diabetes and hypertension after years of stressful traffic noises. Does that mean we should all get noise-canceling headphones and use earplugs for sleeping? The study doesn’t specify that, but we think it won’t hurt.
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