Here's one occasion when you really *do* want to bug out.

Nearly one in every two American adults—about 47%—have been diagnosed with high blood pressure (or hypertension), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms. That statistic might make this malady seem so common that it's no big deal, but that's far from the truth.

High blood pressure increases a person's risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke and cognitive decline. And, since high blood pressure often presents with no symptoms until a larger cardiac event occurs, it's sometimes called a "silent killer". In fact, a lot of people don't even know they have high blood pressure, especially if they're only getting it checked during annual visits to their primary care provider.

What's more, the CDC notes that just 24% of people with high blood pressure are considered to have their condition "under control." Another term for this is "resistant hypertension," and this means an individual maintains a blood pressure higher than 140/90 mmHg, despite being treated with multiple medications (to to three) to try and lower blood pressure. Doctors generally try one medication to start, then work their way through the list of all three if a patient's blood pressure doesn't respond.

A woman's mid section with a blood pressure gauge on top
Credit: Getty Images / Edmund Lowe Photography / Luis Alvarez

Since high blood pressure is so common—and so commonly "out of control"—researchers are on a mission to discover more sneaky reasons why high blood pressure happens, the best diet to decrease blood pressure and more.

The latest discovery in the hypertension space displays how systemic the condition truly is: A new study from the University of Toledo, Ohio, soon to be published in the journal Experimental Biology, suggests that our gut bacteria may explain why treatment is ineffective for some people, including that 76% who have resistant hypertension.

It's not just mediation that is impacted by the microbiome, either. A September 2021 study in the Journal of Hypertension found that a large, diverse population of good gut bacteria can help prevent hypertension before it happens.

What this Gut Health Study Found

The researchers examined the microbiome of rats to see how the quality and quantity of gut bugs might impact common blood pressure treatments. Tao Yang, Ph.D., lead author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Toledo, and his team discovered that one common gut bacterium, Coprococcus comes, can interfere with the action of some angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors—one of the most common classes of treatments for high blood pressure.

Translation: Certain gut bacteria might affect the ability of these hypertension medicines to do their usual job.

"The cause of resistant hypertension is unclear, and there is no efficient method to treat resistant hypertension, other than changing the medications and dosages," Dr. Yang says. "Our study proved the concept that modulation of your microbiota may help the efficacy of antihypertensive drugs."

A healthy (or unhealthy) gut impacts everything from weight to stress and anxiety to overall heart health, and now, the scientists think it may also play a role in which medicines are most helpful in managing certain health conditions.

In the future, Dr. Yang and co. hope to dive into whether other classes of antihypertensive drugs are less impacted by gut bacteria. Their aim: To pinpoint a new possible treatment approach, possibly including probiotics and antibiotics, to help those who don't respond favorably to current high-blood pressure treatments.

This study hints that different gut bacteria play greater and lesser roles in this equation, but it's not exactly easy to know what bugs are hiding out inside. So we asked Dr. Yang how, if at all, we might be able to tell if our tummy might be causing trouble.

"There are services available to determine the microbial composition of feces to determine which microorganisms reside in your gut. The microbial composition report is useful in determining if your gut microbiota is healthy and balanced," he says. For instance, Proteobacteria is a group of pathogenic microbes normally found in adults—but you don't want that proportion to be greater than the average human. Your likely "gut allies" include the microbes Faecalibacterium and Roseburia, Dr. Yang adds, noting that these two are often depleted if you have certain chronic diseases.

"Due to the intricacy of the gut microbiota, each individual is unique. Although this general remark about microbial composition may not apply to everyone, it never hurts to be aware," Dr. Yang concludes.

The Bottom Line

It's not realistic for everyone to do such testing to determine the gut bacteria make up. But what we do know is that there are certain diet and lifestyle habits that can help—or hinder—our gut health. Eating more probiotic-rich foods, like kimchi, kefir and yogurt, deposit good-gut bacteria into your system. And eating more fiber-rich prebiotic foods, like beans, whole grains and fruits and veggies, provide fuel for that good gut bacteria to stay strong and healthy.

On the other hand, pulling back on processed foods made with too much added sugar and hydrogenated fats, as well as curbing excessive consumption of red meat can also help support a healthy gut.

Larger studies, and ones performed on humans, still need to be performed to confirm this link. Until we know more about the connection between gut health and hypertension, though—and even if your blood pressure falls within a safe range right now—it certainly can't hurt to give your gut some TLC.