Purpose of review: Investigators, especially those from western countries, have commonly assumed that there is either no association or a direct association of protein intake with elevated blood pressure and atherosclerosis. In contrast, recent observational studies and clinical trials have suggested that increased protein intake, particularly protein from plant sources, might actually reduce blood pressure and prevent cardiovascular disease.
Recent findings: In epidemiological studies, an increased intake of protein has been associated with lower blood pressure and an attenuated increase in blood pressure over time. Furthermore, such studies also suggest that the beneficial effects of increased protein intake result from an increased consumption of protein from plant rather than animal sources. In several predominantly small trials, an increased intake of soy protein lowered blood pressure. With respect to clinical outcomes, reports from large cohort studies suggest that increased protein intake is associated with a reduced risk of ischemic heart disease and perhaps intraparenchymal hemorrhage. In other reports, a higher protein intake is one characteristic of a dietary pattern associated with a reduced risk of ischemic heart disease. The mechanisms by which protein could exert its beneficial effects include an increased intake of biologically active amino acids, peptides, or highly correlated nutrients.
Summary: Recent evidence suggests that an increased intake of protein, particularly plant protein, may lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, the data are not sufficiently compelling to advocate an increased consumption of protein.