More than a third of the United States is obese, and doctors have known for years being obese and even overweight are major risk factors for high blood pressure. But for the first time, a team of international researchers studied the link between obesity and hypertension and found the key hormone responsible for telling the brain to raise blood pressure. The research is published in the journal Cell, and will open up new doors for those who have diseases connected with excessive weight.

"This study shows that a hormone secreted by fat (leptin) increases blood pressure, and explains the mechanism of the known link between obesity and high blood pressure," researchers wrote. The researchers from Australia, United Kingdom, and several American Universities found the reason why blood pressure raises in obese people is because of fat itself. The hormone leptin is released by fat cells, which means the more excess fat a person has the more leptin they produce. It’s been well known as an appetite suppressor, but oftentimes obese people build up a resistance to its effects.

The leptin is doing something else in the body, something serious that hasn’t been realized until researchers took a closer look at the dorsomedial hypothalamic region of the brain. It’s exactly where leptin flips the switch and tells the body to raise its blood pressure, and finally seeing this happen consistently in mice and men has proven its function. In fact, as much as 80 percent of common high blood pressure cases are directly caused by excess body fat. High blood pressure is nothing to take lightly. It happens when the force of blood against your artery walls is high enough to cause heart disease, stroke, and other problems.

A person can have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, for years without showing any symptoms. The damage is still happening to blood vessels, arteries, and the heart, according to Mayo Clinic. Gaining excess weight is silently damaging your heart and it won’t be until the leptin receptor is blocked that blood pressure can be lowered. The drug market predicts anti-hypertension drugs to exceed $40 billion annually by 2018, and with a leptin blocker they might make more and saving more lives at the same time.

"Our data suggest that pharmacological approaches based on altering the effect of leptin in the dorsomedial hypothalamic region of the brain, could potentially represent a therapeutic target for the treatment of obesity induced hypertension and potentially could be exploited to alleviate the incidence of obesity induced cardiovascular diseases."

Source: Cowley M. Cell. 2014.