Barbers help trim blood pressure of black men in study


Only half of Americans with high pressure have it under control; many don't even know they have the condition.

The study followed 319 black men that patronized the barbershops who had a systolic blood pressure - the pressure of blood flow when the heart pumps - of 140 mm Hg (millimeter of mercury) or more, a clinically high and risky level.

In one group, barbers encouraged patrons to meet with specially trained pharmacists monthly in the barbershop.

"By bringing state-of-the-art medicine directly to the people who need it on their home turf, in this case in a barbershop, and making it both convenient and rigorous, blood pressure can be controlled just as well in African-American men as in other groups", Victor said in a press release.

Black men have high rates of high blood pressure - a top reading over 130 or a bottom one over 80 - and the problems it can cause, such as strokes and heart attacks.

As CNN reported, Dr. Joseph Ravenell, an internist at NYU Langone Health, and his colleagues previously researched how barbershops and other community-based strategies could help diagnose and treat hypertension and colorectal cancer.

"There is a different level of trust and respect that's earned when you meet people where they are, instead of in a hospital or clinic", said C. Adair Blyler, a pharmacist who treated patrons while they were in the barbershops.

The CDC lists the following ways a healthy lifestyle can keep your blood pressure at a healthy level: a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough physical activity, not smoking and limiting alcohol use.

The researchers also pointed out an additional 3.5 million black men in the US are considered to have hypertension now that the ACC and American Heart Association have dropped the lower threshold to 130/80 mm Hg.

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For the patrons working with their barbers and pharmacist, systolic blood pressure dropped from 153 mmHg at the start of the study to 126 mmHg after six months, along with a decrease in diastolic blood pressure of 18 mmHg.

"High blood pressure disproportionately affects the African-American community, and we must find new ways to reach out so we can prevent strokes, heart attacks, heart failure and early deaths", Victor said.

After six months, nearly two-thirds of participants in the group working with pharmacists brought their blood pressure into the healthy range, the study found. But most hypertensive black men still have blood pressures above the old barrier of 140/90. The rest were given advice and encouragement on healthy lifestyle choices from their barber, who urged them to see a doctor for follow up.

"This is a very large effect for a hypertension trial of any kind", Victor said. And after six months, 11.7 percent's blood pressure was in the healthy range.

"High blood pressure is a chronic illness that requires a lifetime commitment to medication and lifestyle modification", Victor said. The researchers note that sustainability beyond 6 months is being considered in ongoing extension study.

The National Institutes of Health paid for the study.

Victor also hopes to expand the program to other parts of the country, including African-American men with more moderate blood pressure levels. Results were discussed at an American College of Cardiology conference in Orlando and published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The ACC's Annual Scientific Session, which is taking place March 10-12 in Orlando, brings together cardiologists and cardiovascular specialists from around the world to share the newest discoveries in treatment and prevention.