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CU Researchers Studying Five-minute Treatment to Lower Blood Pressure

February 28, 2019
Daniel Craighead, a postdoctoral researcher of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado, demonstrates an inspiratory muscle trainer Wednesday at CU. Craighead and Doug Seals, a professor and director of the Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory at CU, are studying how using the inspiratory trainers for five minutes a day impacts blood pressure.

Researchers at the University of Colorado are studying a possible way to lower blood pressure in middle-age and older adults without exercise or medications.

Preliminary data from a pilot clinical trial with 50 participants shows that those using an inspiratory muscle trainer for five minutes every day have so far lowered their blood pressure and improved large artery functions, according to Doug Seals, a professor and director of the Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory at CU.

Participants who used a fake trainer, acting as the placebo group, have not seen either of those changes.

Seals said they will know more about the research results in nine to 12 months, but an interim analysis “looked very promising for improving high blood pressure and vascular health.”

High blood pressure can increase a person’s risk of heart disease or stroke.

A more conventional form of treatment for high blood pressure is 30 minutes of exercise each day, but only 5 percent of adults reach that goal.

“It’s very difficult to get busy, middle-age adults to develop that change in their lifestyle,” Seals said.

With inspiratory muscle strength training, the preliminary results show patients only need to breathe in against the resistance of the device 30 times, which takes about five minutes, to see an improvement. There also are no known side effects to the training so far.

About 1 in every 3 American adults older than 20 have high blood pressure, and another third have prehypertension, or higher than normal blood pressure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When middle-age adults are broken out, 65 percent of them have high blood pressure.

While Seals said this study won’t conclusively prove anything, it will “give us strong implications for the promise of this clinical therapy” and provide a basis for larger studies.

The National Institute on Aging provided a $450,000 grant for the study, conducted by Seals and Daniel Craighead, a postdoctoral researcher of integrative physiology at CU.

When they were first developed in the 1980s, inspiratory muscle trainers were used to help critically ill people stop using ventilators. Patients with lung diseases would use the device for 30 minutes each day at a low level of resistance.

Researchers at the University of Arizona ran a trial to see if the device would help those with sleep apnea. Their study was different from previous ones because they increased the resistance of the device, so patients only had to use it for five minutes each day.

Not only did patients sleep better, they also saw a drop in their blood pressure. Aerobic exercise can lower blood pressure by 2 or 5 points, according to Seals, but the inspiratory muscle trainer lowered blood pressure by about 12 points.

“That’s more like what you would see with some clinical prescriptions,” he said.

That discovery sparked Seals’ and Craighead’s interest in exploring the treatment.

Because it takes so little time out of the day, Seals said the treatment is “one that we hope people would be more willing to do.”

So far, preliminary data shows that not only are participants seeing lower blood pressure, they also are performing better on treadmill tests and seeing improvement in their memories. However, it’s not clear what the biological reasons are for those changes, Seals said.

“The blood pressure might be because we’re improving the strength of blood vessels,” he said. “Part of the trial that we’re doing is to uncover these biological processes through which this type of training is improving things.”

One theory is that the training is lowering inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, which can get worse with age.

Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, mstamour@prairiemountainmedia.com