Plant-based foods high in flavonoids, such as berries, tea, red wine and chocolate, seem to help lower your blood pressure. And a new study shows the degree to which this happens may depend on the bacteria in your gut. That's news from the American Heart Association.

“Our gut microbiome plays a key role in metabolizing flavonoids to enhance their cardioprotective effects, and this study provides evidence to suggest these blood pressure-lowering effects are achievable with simple changes to the daily diet,” says Dr. Aedín Cassidy from the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and lead author of the study.

The bacteria in your gut -- your microbiome -- break down flavonoids during digestion. And since recent studies suggest that flavonoids may reduce your risk of heart disease, the researchers wanted to see if your microbiome plays a role in that process.

They found that people in the study who ate a lot of flavonoid-rich foods had greater diversity of bacteria in their guts and lower systolic blood pressure. They also found that just over 15% of the association between flavonoids and lower blood pressure could be explained by diversity bacteria.

What all of this means is that flavonoid-rich foods may help lower blood pressure, and part of the process may happen because of the bacteria in your gut.

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The study, published in the journal Hypertension, builds on previous research about the cardiovascular health benefits of flavonoids. The researchers say additional studies are needed to figure out the relationship between flavonoids, your microbiome and heart health.

One more note. The American Heart Association says that while red wine contains a lot of flavonoids, people who don't drink should not start. And those who do should talk to their health care provider about health implications of drinking alcohol.

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