Woman sticks out her tongue/ShutterStock
High blood pressure is a common health problem affecting millions of people worldwide. While we often associate high blood pressure with lifestyle factors like diet and exercise, an intriguing study published in the Journal of Advanced Research in January 2023 suggests a surprising link: the health of our gums.
Gingivitis, commonly referred to as gum disease, is a common oral health problem, and has an impact far beyond our mouths alone. The aim of this study was to understand the complex interplay between gum health, the microbial population present in our mouths, and the development of high blood pressure.
How was the study conducted?
To examine the possible link between gingivitis and high blood pressure, the researchers conducted two studies: a cross-sectional study and a 6-month follow-up study. The cross-sectional study included 95 subjects with hypertension and a control group of 39 subjects without hypertension. The follow-up study involved 52 subjects with hypertension and a control group of 26 participants without blood pressure.
The researchers analyzed microbial samples from three sources: saliva, the area between the teeth and gums, and feces. They used advanced methods, including genetic sequencing, to identify the composition of the microbes in the different samples.
In addition, the researchers conducted experiments in mice to examine the possible effect of transferring bacteria from people's oral cavity to the intestines of mice. To do this, the researchers destroyed the mice's gut bacteria using antibiotics and transplanted human saliva into their intestinal cavity to test its effect on high blood pressure in mice.
Main findings: The link between gums and hypertension
The study yielded a number of groundbreaking findings:1. Gingivitis and high blood pressure:
Participants with gingivitis had higher systolic blood pressure than participants without gingivitis. This finding was observed in both the cross-sectional study and the follow-up study. This finding demonstrates that gum disease can contribute to the development and progression of high blood pressure.
2. Changes in the composition of the oral and intestinal microbiome in hypertension: People with high blood pressure showed significant changes in the composition of the oral and intestinal microbiomes compared to people without hypertension.
3. Proliferation of specific bacterial groups in hypertension: In subjects with hypertension, proliferation of specific bacterial groups was observed, such as a bacterium called vionella, which was not observed in subjects without hypertension.
4. Relationship between the Microbiome and Blood Pressure: The study identified several types of bacteria in the mouth and intestine that were significantly related to blood pressure. Some were associated with an increased risk of blood pressure, and some were associated with a reduced risk of blood pressure.
5. Transmission of bacteria from the mouth to the intestine: Curiously, the study revealed a possible link between the microbes in the mouth and intestine. Bacteria usually found in the mouth, such as vionella, have been detected in the intestines of people with hypertension. This suggests that oral bacteria may settle in the gut and influence blood pressure regulation.
6. Lasting effect of bacteria passing from the oral cavity to the intestine: Research has shown that blood pressure-related bacteria that travel from the oral cavity to the intestine can remain in the intestine for an extended period of time. For example, in people with hypertension, the virula bacteria associated with high blood pressure has been observed to remain elevated in the gut over time.
7. Causal relationship: The experiments performed in mice provided compelling evidence for the possible association between transmission of bacteria from the mouth to the intestine and high blood pressure. Mice that received saliva from people with high blood pressure developed high blood pressure, suggesting that the bacteria in the oral cavity may have a causal relationship to the development of hypertension.
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Implications and future directions
This groundbreaking study reveals previously unexplored links between gum health, oral microbiome, and high blood pressure. The study's findings suggest that gingivitis and changes in the oral and intestinal microbiome may contribute to high blood pressure, with Vionella emerging as a possible key player. These discoveries have broad implications for the prevention and treatment of hypertension.
The study highlights the importance of maintaining healthy gums, as well as examining interventions to change the composition of the oral cavity microbiome and the transfer of bacteria from the oral cavity to the intestine. While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms involved, these findings suggest a promising possibility for treating the common health problem of hypertension.
Dr. Dalit Dryman Medina is an expert in family medicine and integrative and functional medicine
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