High blood pressure may be programmed in the womb

A scientific study has found further evidence that high blood pressure in adulthood is pre-programmed in the womb.

Researchers from the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Southampton who carried out tests of 278 elderly people found those with high levels of aldosterone in their blood – a hormone which increases blood pressure – also had a low birth weight.

High blood pressure and low birth weight have previously been linked to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the bloodstream, but this is the first study to look specifically at levels of aldosterone.

The findings suggest that levels of cortisol and aldosterone are closely linked, with production of both likely to be controlled by the same hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system.

The researchers believe the results suggest that early conditions in the womb which retard fetal growth also program the level of aldosterone production by the HPA system.

Aldosterone and its role in heart disease is the focus of a number of studies at the MRC Cardiovascular Research Group at Glasgow.

Professor John Connell, a senior researcher and Professor of Endocrinology at the British Heart Foundation Glasgow Cardiovascular Research Centre at the University of Glasgow, who leads the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cardiovascular Research Group, said: “This study tells us that aldosterone is regulated by long-term factors that operate throughout the lifespan; it  is an important mechanism for regulation of high blood pressure and may explain why some are more pre-disposed to it than others. This data also highlights aldosterone as a therapeutic target in treating high blood pressure.”

The study was funded by the Wellcome Trust, British Heart Foundation and the Medical Research Council and is published in the June edition of the journal ‘Hypertension’.

For further information contact Stuart Forsyth in the Media Relations Office of the University of Glasgow on 0141 330 4831 or s.forsyth@admin.gla.ac.uk

First published: 15 May 2009

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