Low-Fat Yogurt May Cut High Blood Pressure Risk

Reported by Julielynn Wong, M.D., ABC News Medical Unit

Low-fat yogurt may help lower your risk for high blood pressure, according to new research.

A new study of more than 2,100 adults presented at the American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research 2012 Scientific Sessions Wednesday found that those who reported eating more low-fat yogurt were 31 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who ate less.

The researchers also found that, over the course of the 15-year study, low-fat yogurt eaters, on average, had lower increases in systolic blood pressure - the "first" ot top number" in a blood pressure reading - compared to those who did not eat low-fat yogurt.

These results held up even after adjusting for weight, use of blood pressure medications and lifestyle factors, including diet.

This study, which was partially funded by yogurt company Dannon, was part of a bigger long-term project, known as the Framingham Heart Study.

About one in three adults living in the United States - around 68 million Americans - have high blood pressure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death across the nation.

Dr. Robert O. Bonow, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Innovation at Northwestern's Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, said that when it comes to keeping blood pressure at bay, every bit counts.

"As you get older, your [blood] pressure tends to go up," said Bonow, who was not involved in the study. "If you can minimize the age-related increase, that's good."

The researchers behind the study and other experts cautioned that while this study found a link between low-fat yogurt and lower blood pressure, it doesn't prove that yogurt actually lowers blood pressure.

There could be other reasons why individuals who eat low-fat yogurt do better, the researchers said.

"Yogurt may be beneficial," Bonow said. "Is this the key to heart health? It's not clear."

Some nutrition experts noted, however, that these findings do add to the growing body of evidence of the health benefits of low-fat yogurt.

"Previous studies have found that including low-fat dairy foods in a healthy diet can help manage blood pressure," said Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

"The Dash studies published over a decade ago showed that a healthy diet pattern that included lots of fruits, vegetables, three low-fat dairy servings per day and limited saturated fat along with a moderate sodium intake was effective for lowering blood pressure," said Sandon, who was not involved with the study.

According to the researchers, low-fat yogurt is high in protein and other nutrients - calcium, potassium and magnesium - that are related to blood pressure and are typically underconsumed by Americans.

Sandon agreed. "The calcium found in yogurt and other dairy foods may be the key ingredient," she said. "An earlier version of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that people who ate more foods high in calcium had lower blood pressure. Taking calcium supplements does not seem to have the same effect as foods that naturally contain calcium."

How much low-fat yogurt should you consume to try to help your blood pressure? The researchers found that eating six ounces of yogurt every three days helped.

There's an easy way to figure out how much yogurt that is. "A woman's fist is about one cup. The palm of a woman's hand is half a cup," said Connie Diekman, a registered dietitian and director of University Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, "So a little bit between those is six ounces."

There are other known benefits of snacking on low-fat yogurt besides helping bone health, said Diekman, who was not involved in the study.

"Yogurt is a great source of protein," she said. "The protein keeps you feeling full a little longer. It does have some liquid so it provides some hydration."

While more rigorous research on low-fat yogurt is needed before doctors can reliably link it to lower blood pressure, nutrition experts said that adding some of it to your diet can't hurt.

"Yogurt can be part of a healthy diet and may help with managing blood pressure," said Sandon. "A healthy diet coupled with regular physical exercise can help you manage your health and prevent chronic diseases like high blood pressure."