Can Soy-Based Isoflavones Lower High Blood Pressure?

Like it or not, it may be time to give up that Thanksgiving bird in favor of tofurkey, which can help you lower your high blood pressure

Did you know that only a third of Americans who suffer from high blood pressure have their BP under control? That's a scary statistic, amounting to tens of millions of people. Needless to say, that lack of control can cause billions of dollars of increased medical costs per year.

Many hypertensives take a multipronged approach to treating their BP, using a combination of medication, exercise, and healthy eating habits like the DASH Diet. Luckily, we're finding more and more foods that can help you lower your blood pressure, and in this exciting episode, we'll profile a great one.

Oh Boy -- Soy!

You may know soy as the vegetable protein that can mimic everything from meat (given the proper texturing) to ice cream. Kinda, anyway. Certainly, the bean curd concoction known as tofu, a transplant from Asia, has become increasingly popular here in the states.

That's a good thing, because inside these versatile beans are interesting chemicals called isoflavones, which can drop your systolic blood pressure by up to 10 mm of mercury if you consume amounts as small as 2.5 milligrams per day. That's about 10 times less than you can get in one eight-ounce glass of soy milk.

You can also get copious isoflavones in green tea, roasted soybeans, peanuts, and, of course, tofu.

Caveat, Emptor

The new revelations about soy isoflavones emerged from a study of 5,000 young adults funded by the National Institutes of Health; the average drop due to a soy-rich diet was 5.5 mm of mercury. So the drop isn't huge -- but every little bit helps, as the saying goes.

Another point to keep in mind is that as far as we understand at the moment, the biggest benefit accrues to pre-hypertensives, not actually those already suffering from high BP. However, eating more tofu and soy milk as part of a DASH Diet certainly can't hurt.

African-American adults, a distressing 42% of whom have high blood pressure, showed the best results from soy intake.

How It Works

Apparently, the soy lowers BP by stimulating the production of natural enzymes that produce nitric oxide. (Not laughing gas. That's nitrous oxide.) Nitric oxide released into the bloodstream expands your blood vessels a bit, and lower blood pressure naturally results.

The nitric oxide and concurrent low blood pressure also help the heart, decreasing the likelihood of dangerous cardiac events like strokes and heart attacks.

The researchers released the results of their study on March 25, 2012. While they're encouraging, we must emphasize that the results are only preliminary at this time. Still, any method that helps lower high blood pressure, even a little, without resorting to medication is worth keeping an eye on.

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