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Want a healthy heart and low blood pressure? Eat lots of Ume fruit

In the United States, most people have never heard of Ume fruit. However, more than 122 million adults, approximately half of the population aged 20 years and older, grapple with high blood pressure or hypertension. This medical condition stands as a significant factor behind cardiovascular diseases. 

Although medical advancements have yielded improved treatment methods, patients on blood pressure medications still confront a high risk of death from heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.

In the light of insufficient new drugs to efficaciously control hypertension and associated cardiovascular issues, the search for innovative treatment approaches has intensified.

An accidental discovery that could save millions of lives

Scientists at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University have recently stumbled upon an encouraging alternative in the form of a simple juice concentrate from the Japanese plum (Ume fruit), scientifically named Prunus mume.

“Drugs alone can’t sufficiently reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in hypertension patients,” said study senior author Dr. Satoru Eguchi. “We began probing the impacts of bainiku-ekisu, an infused juice concentrate of the Japanese plum, as we were drawn towards a supplement that could possibly lower cardiovascular disease risk.”

What is an Ume fruit?

Commonly consumed in Asian nations, the Japanese plum or “Ume,” a fruit lauded as a health food in Japan, contains toxins in its raw state. Hence, it is typically processed into juices or wine deemed safe for consumption. Bainiku-ekisu, the infused juice concentrate, has served as a health supplement in Japan since the 18th century.

Claims of bainiku-ekisu’s benefits are widespread, spanning from its potential in averting heart diseases. The supporting evidence from previous studies, albeit limited, underscores these claims. Experiments have indicated bainiku-ekisu’s ability to dull growth-promoting signals prompted by angiotensin II, a hormone crucial to hypertension’s development.

To better comprehend bainiku-ekisu’s anti-hypertensive effects, Dr. Eguchi teamed up with Dr. Hirotoshi Utsunomiya of the Kawasaki Rehabilitation University in Japan and used a mouse model. Mice were induced with hypertension through angiotensin II infusions and were subsequently given either plain water or water containing bainiku-ekisu.

What the researchers learned

Evaluation of the cardiovascular function and vascular tissues of the two groups revealed stark contrasts. Mice administered with bainiku-ekisu did not develop hypertension. Further, the juice concentrate appeared to safeguard the vasculature from the effects of angiotensin II. 

Aortic hypertrophy was minimal in mice receiving bainiku-ekisu, while the control group showed noticeable aortic enlargement. Additionally, bainiku-ekisu diminished the infiltration of immune cells, which instigate hypertension-associated inflammatory processes.

Dr. Eguchi and his team continued their research to unearth how bainiku-ekisu averted hypertension in mice. They focused on the molecular pathways involved in glycolysis – the process of glucose breakdown, which is a key characteristic of hypertension-induced hypertrophy.

How the Ume fruit controls hypertension

“In hypertension, cells transition from aerobic metabolism to glycolysis due to reduced oxygen in the cellular environment,” explained Dr. Eguchi. “This shift causes heightened oxidative stress, leading to increased inflammation, more vascular stiffness, and ultimately, more severe cardiovascular disease.” 

The cell experiments revealed that bainiku-ekisu prevents the switch to glycolysis, implying it wards off angiotensin II-induced hypertension by alleviating detrimental metabolic changes causing hypertrophy and inflammation.

Moving forward, Dr. Eguchi and his team aim to pinpoint the specific compounds in bainiku-ekisu responsible for its protective effects. 

“Multiple compounds could be at play together, which might explain why Ume’s infused juice concentrate is such a sought-after health supplement,” said Dr. Eguchi. “In a pharmaceutical preparation, the additive or synergistic effects of these compounds could be lost.”

Thanks to many people for this study

Other contributors to the study include Keisuke Okuno, Keiichi Torimoto, Ryohei Kuroda, and Stephanie M. Cicalese, from the Department of Cardiovascular Science, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University; Yoshiharu Okuno from the National Institute of Technology, Wakayama College, Gobo, Japan; Ryohei Kono from the Department of Rehabilitation, Osaka Kawasaki Rehabilitation University, Kaizuka, Osaka, Japan; and Shinsuke Marumoto from Kindai University, Osaka, Japan.

Financial backing for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health and a research gift fund from Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Japan. These groundbreaking findings, featured online in the journal Hypertension Research, serve as a promising beacon for hypertension treatment strategies, potentially leading to a paradigm shift from medication-oriented approaches to more natural supplement-based treatments.

More about hypertension

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a chronic condition in which the force exerted by the blood against the walls of the arteries is consistently too high. 

Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. If the heart pumps more blood and the arteries are narrow, blood pressure is higher.

Hypertension is often divided into two types:

Primary (essential) hypertension

This type of hypertension develops over time with no identifiable cause. Most people have this type of high blood pressure.

Secondary hypertension 

This type of hypertension is caused by an underlying condition. It tends to appear suddenly and cause higher blood pressure than primary hypertension. Various conditions and medications can lead to secondary hypertension, including kidney disease, adrenal gland tumors, certain congenital heart defects, and certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers, and some prescription drugs.

Hypertension usually has no symptoms, even if blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels. Some people may experience headaches, shortness of breath, or nosebleeds, but these symptoms occur only when blood pressure spikes suddenly and extremely high.

If untreated, hypertension can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and heart failure. Therefore, it’s crucial to monitor blood pressure and take steps to control it if it’s too high.

How to manage hypertension 

Management of hypertension typically involves a combination of lifestyle changes and medications. Lifestyle modifications can include a healthy diet (often following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet), regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, avoiding tobacco, and reducing the amount of sodium in your diet.

A variety of medications are available to treat hypertension, including diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and others. The choice of medication depends on the individual patient’s health history, the severity of hypertension, and the presence of any other health conditions.

Regular monitoring of blood pressure, both in the doctor’s office and at home, is an important part of managing hypertension. Home blood pressure monitoring can help provide a more accurate picture of a person’s blood pressure level over time and can help to identify ‘white coat hypertension’ (a phenomenon where blood pressure rises in a clinical setting but is otherwise normal).

What causes hypertension? 

The exact causes of high blood pressure aren’t known. Several factors and conditions may play a role in its development. 

These include genetics, age, race (for example, African-Americans are at higher risk), obesity, physical inactivity, tobacco use, high sodium diet, low potassium diet, alcohol consumption, stress, and certain chronic conditions such as kidney disease and diabetes.

It’s worth noting that research is ongoing to find new ways to understand, prevent, and treat hypertension. These include investigations into genetics, dietary approaches, and other lifestyle factors.

image Credit: Dr. Hirotoshi Utsunomiya


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