High blood pressure is one of the strongest predictors for heart disease — the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. A simple dietary fix for improving heart health, for women in particular, may be down the dairy aisle. New research presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 Scientific Sessions, reveals women who regularly ate yogurt significantly lowered their risk of developing high blood pressure.

"No one food is a magic bullet, but adding yogurt to an otherwise healthy diet seems to help reduce the long-term risk of high blood pressure in women," said the study’s lead author Justin Buendia, a Ph.D. candidate at Boston University School of Medicine, in a press release. "Our study shows that daily intake of dairy products, particularly yogurt, lowers the risk for developing high blood pressure, which is a key risk factor for the development of heart disease and stroke.”

For the study, researchers collected dietary patterns and medical data on women between 25 and 55 years old from the Nurses’ Health Study and additional data from men between 40 and 75 years old from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. When researchers followed up with participants after both 18 and then 30 years, they tallied 74,609 new cases of high blood pressure. High blood pressure is caused when blood pushes against blood vessel walls with atypical force, putting excessive pressure on the heart muscle. According to the American Heart Association, if untreated this can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Women who ate five or more servings of yogurt per week reduced their risk of developing high blood pressure by 20 percent, compared to women who only consumed one serving of yogurt per month. Researchers wondered if it was because those who regularly ate more servings of yogurt also had a healthier overall diet, so they gave each participant a score based on how closely their diets matched the DASH diet.

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is an eating plan designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure. The 2,000-calorie diet focuses on incorporating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, total fat, and sweets. Researchers found those whose scores indicated their diets best mirrored the DASH diet and who ate five or more servings of yogurt a week had the lowest risk of developing high blood pressure. They also found women who ate several servings of milk and cheese each day were at reduced risk of developing high blood pressure.

Male study participants ate so much less yogurt compared to women they saw no significant benefit. But Buendia recognizes more research is needed — including testing various yogurt products — before they can fully understand yogurt’s role in heart health. Buendia concluded: "It would be interesting to see if popular yogurt types, such as Greek yogurt, had different effects than regular yogurt.”

Source: Buendia J, Hu FB, Singer MR, Cabral HJ, and Moore LL. American Heart Association's Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 Scientific Sessions . 2016.