According to the British Heart Foundation there are around 14.4 million people in the UK with high blood pressure. If untreated, high blood pressure can significantly raise the risk of heart and circulatory diseases including strokes and heart attacks. It’s also associated with an increased risk of vascular dementia.
The molecule known as resveratrol is a compound produced by the skins of certain fruits in self defence against insects, bacteria and fungi and is best known for its presence in grapes and red wine.
In this study, BHF-funded researchers from the King’s BHF Centre of Excellence gave a dose of resveratrol to mice with induced high blood pressure, causing the blood vessels of the mice to relax and blood pressure to drop. The researchers also demonstrated that resveratrol works in the same way in smooth muscle cells from human blood vessels.
According to the researchers, no current blood pressure lowering medications target this pathway and the findings could lead to the development of new drugs.
Study lead, Dr Joseph Burgoyne said: “We’re slowly realising that oxidants aren’t always the villain. Our research shows that a molecule once deemed an antioxidant exerts its beneficial effects through oxidation. We think that many other so-called ‘antioxidants’ might also work in this way.
“Our work could lay the foundations for chemically altering resveratrol to improve its delivery to the body, or designing new, more potent drugs which use the same pathway. In the future, we could have a whole new class of blood pressure drugs.”
King’s Professor of Molecular Cardiology, School of Cardiovascular Science & Medicine and Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, Metin Avkiran warns: “Unfortunately, this isn’t the all clear to reach for the wine rack. To get the human equivalent dose of resveratrol used here, you’d need to drink an impossible amount of red wine every day – which is both unfeasible and inadvisable.
“The real value of this study is in revealing the surprising way in which resveratrol exerts its effects, and with it the possibility of new blood pressure drugs which work in a similar way. The findings bring us a step closer to tackling this ‘silent killer’ which puts people at risk of having a devastating stroke or heart attack.
“Although you can buy resveratrol supplements, the best way to keep your blood pressure under control is through a healthy lifestyle, a balanced diet and taking any medicines prescribed by your doctor.”