A diet combining unsaturated fats with nitrate-rich vegetables, such as olive oil and lettuce, can protect from high blood pressure, suggests a new study led by King’s College London and funded by the British Heart Foundation.
The findings, published in the journal PNAS, may help explain why previous studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet can reduce blood pressure.
The Mediterranean diet typically includes unsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts and avocados, along with vegetables like spinach, celery and carrots that are rich in nitrite and nitrates.
When the compounds in these two food groups are combined, they can form nitro fatty acids.
The study used mice to investigate how nitro fatty acids lower blood pressure by seeing whether they inhibited an enzyme called epoxide hydrolase, which can raise blood pressure.
The results suggest that the protective effect of the Mediterranean diet – combining unsaturated fats and vegetables abundant in nitrite and nitrate – comes from the nitro fatty acids generated which inhibit soluble epoxide hydrolase, known to be linked to high blood pressure.
Dr Sanjay Thakrar, Research Adviser at the British Heart Foundation, which co-funded the research, said: “This interesting study goes some way to explain why a Mediterranean diet appears to be good for your heart health. The results showed a way in which a particular compound could combat high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
“However, more work is necessary as these experiments were conducted in mice and this compound could also be having its effect through other pathways.”