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New Clue to Controlling Hypertension

You may never have heard of aldosterone -- many people haven’t -- but this hormone is vital to your body’s healthy function. Produced by the adrenal glandsthat sit atop the kidneys, aldosterone conducts a veritable symphony of body functions, speeding up and slowing down changes in levels of potassium, sodium and other electrolytes in your blood, all inorder to keep blood pressure from fluctuating too much.

For many, many people, aldosterone does its job admirably, never causing a missed note or reason for concern -- but if you are among themillions of people who have high blood pressure, you should pay careful attention to this story. We know from lots of research that aldosterone may play a role in what’s known as resistant hypertension --blood pressure that is extremely difficult to control. And now a new study sheds more light on why that is and provides insights that may help solve the problem.

Your Aldosterone, Your Brain andYour Heart

For more information on aldosterone, I called the study author, Wanpen Vongpatanasin, MD, associate professor of internal medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center inDallas. Until lately, she told me, it was believed that the problems caused by elevated levels of aldosterone occurred primarily in the kidneys. New research demonstrates, however, that the hormone alsoaffects many parts of the brain, which then in turn interact with the cardiovascular system.

Dr. Vongpatanasin’s study examined how aldosterone affected specific areas of the nervous system wherechemicals signal the brain to constrict blood vessels. After measuring these signals in patients with high aldosterone levels, researchers found that there was heightened activity that led to greatervessel constriction and hence elevated blood pressure.

While there are several causes for elevated aldosterone, for the most part, people who have this condition remain unaware of it unless, or...
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