Intermittent fasting may tweak gut bacteria to lower high blood pressure

Intermittent fasting may spur gut bacteria changes that lower blood pressure, according to a new study from Baylor College of Medicine. The findings were based on lab rats with spontaneous high blood pressure, as well as normal, healthy rodents, who were put on intermittent fasting protocols and received gut microbiota transplants.

High blood pressure is a common condition that, if left untreated, can lead to a variety of serious health problems, including heart disease and stroke. A body of research has linked beneficial bacteria with healthy blood pressure — for example, using antibacterial mouthwash may disrupt oral bacteria in a way that contributes to hypertension.

This new study focused on gut bacteria and the role it may play in high blood pressure, finding that a disruption to the microbiota may influence the development of hypertension rather than being the result of it. The research focused on rats, including a spontaneously hypertensive stroke-prone (SHRSP) rat model, normal rats, and ones that were germ-free, meaning they didn't have their own microbiota.

Part of the research involved splitting the rats into two groups, one given unrestricted access to food and the other put on an intermittent fasting protocol that involved eating every other day. Fast-forward nine weeks and the researchers found that the SHRSP rats that fasted had lower blood pressure than SHRSP rats that ate daily.

Following this, the researchers transplanted the microbiota from both regularly fed and fasted rats into the germ-free rats. Those germ-free rats that received transplants from non-fasted SHRSP rats went on to develop higher blood pressure similar to the donor. However, the rats that received transplants from SHRSP rats put on the fasting diet had 'significantly lower' blood pressure than the control recipients.

Dr. David J Durgan, one of the researchers behind the study, explained:

This study is important to understand that fasting can have its effects on the host through microbiota manipulation. This is an attractive idea because it can potentially have clinical applications. Many of the bacteria in the gut microbiota are involved in the production of compounds that have been shown to have beneficial effects as they make it into the circulation and contribute to the regulation of the host's physiology. Fasting schedules could one day help regulate the activity of gut microbial populations to naturally provide health benefits.