Background: The blood pressure (BP) effects of changing the total fat intake and saturated-unsaturated fat ratio are still controversial, despite evidence that saturated fat-enriched diets are associated with higher BP levels. This double-blind, randomized crossover study evaluated a possible difference between antihypertensive effects of monounsaturated (MUFA) (extra-virgin olive oil) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) (sunflower oil).
Methods: Twenty-three hypertensive patients were assigned randomly to MUFA or PUFA diet for 6 months and then crossed over to the other diet; effects were evaluated on the basis of daily antihypertensives needed.
Results: Diets high in MUFA and PUFA differed from the habitual diet for reduced total and saturated fats, whereas they differed from each other for MUFA (17.2% vs 10.5%) and PUFA content (3.8% vs 10.5%). Resting BP was significantly lower (P = .05 for systolic BP; P = .01 for diastolic BP) at the end of the MUFA diet compared with the PUFA diet. Blood pressure responses during sympathetic stimulation with the cold pressor test and isometric exercise were similar. Daily drug dosage was significantly reduced during the MUFA but not the PUFA diet (-48% vs - 4%, P<.005). All patients receiving the PUFA diet required antihypertensive treatment, whereas 8 of those receiving the MUFA diet needed no drug therapy.
Conclusions: A slight reduction in saturated fat intake, along with the use of extra-virgin olive oil, markedly lowers daily antihypertensive dosage requirement, possibly through enhanced nitric oxide levels stimulated by polyphenols.