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Herbs for hearts: Industry sees potential in kitchen botanicals for treating hypertension

The ubiquity of hypertension is spiking the demand for research-backed nutraceuticals promoting coronary health. While hypertension is pegged as a major contributing factor in cardiovascular diseases, consumers increasingly seek natural, efficacious and safe agents in alternative therapeutic solutions. NutritionInsight spotlights the emergence of botanically sourced compounds in supplements for healthy blood pressure.

High blood pressure is pegged as a public health concern happening across the globe as it raises the likelihood of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The Journal of Hypertension and Management reports that risk factors for CVD in the US alone are expected to rapidly increase in the next two decades, with some projections indicating that over 45 percent of the nation’s population will be affected by some form of CVD by 2035.

Moreover, according to statistics by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 50 percent of hypertensive patients were shown to be unable to keep their blood pressure under control – even under pharmacologic intervention. This underlines the critical need for adjunctive anti-hypertensive therapies.

Nearly 50 percent of hypertensive patients are unable to keep their blood pressure under control – even under pharmacologic intervention. Certain factors such as aging, endothelial dysfunction, arterial stiffness, nitric oxide level, sodium salt intake, high antidiuretic hormone levels, high lipid profiles, overweight/obesity, lifestyle, smoking, alcoholism, stress, anxiety and insomnia are noted as contributing to hypertension and overall cardiovascular health.

High blood pressure is a significant pathophysiologic contributor to CVD forms, including stroke, coronary artery disease, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, atherosclerosis and chronic kidney disease. Researchers are examining compounds in common kitchen spices for new alternative therapies.

“For thousands of years, herbs have been used as safe and natural solutions for protecting and preserving human health. Today, consumers are looking for natural alternatives to conventional medicine,” Shaheen Majeed, Worldwide President of Sabinsa, tells.

A recent study from the University of California, Irvine, US, explains the molecular mechanisms behind herbs relaxing blood vessels. According to this research, many traditional botanical plants such as lavender, fennel and chamomile were found to lower blood pressure by activating a specific potassium channel (KCNQ5) in blood vessels. The discovery of these botanical KCNQ5-selective potassium channel openers could now potentially enable the development of future targeted therapies for diseases including hypertension and KCNQ5 loss-of-function encephalopathy, say the researchers.

Spiceuticals for treating high blood pressure
High blood pressure is often asymptomatic – especially in its early stages – earning it a reputation as a “silent killer.” Once diagnosed, hypertensive patients are required to take antihypertensive drugs for life. However this medication is often expensive and may cause adverse reactions, as noted by Emmanuel Nambusseril, Chief Marketing Officer of Akay Flavors and Aromatics.

“Here comes the significance of safe nutraceuticals and complementary therapies,” he tells. “[Akay’s] sharply focused research in this area is based on a safe and organically available traditional herb and kitchen spice, Nigella sativa, commonly known as Black cumin, Black seed or Kalonji.”

Akay has developed and patented a standardized black cumin oil rich in Thymoquinone, its active ingredient for hypertension. Coined BlaQmax, the extract has already been clinically substantiated for its anxiolytic and stress-relieving properties, which also have a positive effect on memory and insomnia, notes Nambusseril. In addition, BlaQmax is the result of a green cold-press and supercritical extraction process, which produces an ingredient that can be marketed as organic and clean label.

“Despite the various human clinical and meta-analysis on black cumin and its extracts on hypertension, its efficacy is sometimes controversial. Our systematic research over the past four years could unravel the reason behind the poor compliance in previous studies – the very low thymoquinone content,” he explains.

Significantly, black cumin and its oil or its hydro-ethanolic extracts contain either “no” thymoquinone or “low content” of the compound (as low as less than 0.2 percent w/w). “Some of the clinical studies have reported some effects have used a dose of 5g to 6g of oil a day for effects to be observed. This makes BlaQmax significant as it can which can provide 5 to 10 mg a day of thymoquinone in as small as 100 to 200 mg softgels,” adds Nambusseril.

At a relatively low dosage of 100 to 200 mg a day, Nambusseril notes that various preclinical studies have demonstrated BlaQmax’s cardiometabolic risk factors managing effects. The compound has been found to offer anti-hypertensive, hypolipidemic, body weight reducing, stress and anxiety relieving, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Vegetable wellness
Also sourcing heart health-boosting compounds from a common ingredient is dietary supplements player Lycored, which targets stress relief through its tomato nutrient complex product. The brand’s Cardiomato contains six phytonutrients standardized to precise levels to induce a synergistic effect on cellular processes positively affecting cardiovascular wellbeing.

An increase in serum lycopene after supplementation was found to reduce oxidative stress, which may play a role in endothelial function. “In our most recent clinical trial, researchers investigated its blood-pressure-lowering effects in hypertensive subjects, comparing them to lycopene alone,” says Golan Raz, Head of Lycored’s Global Health Division.

Sixty-one volunteers aged between 35 and 60 and affected by hypertension took part in a double-blind randomized study by Lycored. They were given capsules containing the active standardized tomato extract (with doses of 5, 15 or 30mg of lycopene), synthetic lycopene or a placebo, and were instructed to take them with their main meal.

“In our consumer-facing campaigns, we emphasize the importance of both psychological as well as emotional wellness. The pursuit of cardiovascular calm – for example by tackling oxidative stress – is at the heart of our clinical cardio health program,” highlights Raz.

Elevated consumer focus on clean label aspects in product development is expected to further expand the market for botanical ingredients in homeopathic nutraceuticals, which garners attention as new research unveils more of their hidden benefits.

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