Japanese plum juice concentrate may reduce cardiovascular disease risk

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects over 122 million Americans, accounting for approximately half of the population aged 20 and older. It is a significant contributor to cardiovascular disease, and despite advancements in treatment, individuals taking medications to manage their blood pressure still face a high risk of death from conditions like heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.

The lack of new and effective drugs for controlling hypertension and its associated cardiovascular complications has prompted researchers to explore alternative treatment approaches. A team of scientists from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University has made an intriguing discovery in their quest. They have found that a simple juice concentrate derived from the Japanese plum (Prunus mume) shows promise in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. The Japanese plum is a fruit commonly consumed in Asian countries and is touted as a health food in Japan. The researchers published their findings in the journal Hypertension Research.

Dr. Satoru Eguchi, a Professor at the Cardiovascular Research Center, Sol Sherry Thrombosis Research Center, and Center for Metabolic Disease Research at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, explained, “It is widely recognized that medication alone is insufficient to mitigate the risk of cardiovascular disease in individuals with hypertension. To address this issue, we became interested in exploring a supplement that could potentially decrease this risk. We began investigating the effects of bainiku-ekisu, a concentrated juice derived from the Japanese plum.”

The raw Japanese plum, known as “ume” in Japan, contains toxins and is typically processed into safe-to-consume juices or wines. One such product is bainiku-ekisu, an infused juice concentrate that has been used as a dietary supplement in Japan since at least the 18th century.

Many claims have been made about the health benefits of bainiku-ekisu, including its potential to prevent heart disease. Although the evidence from previous studies is limited, it does lend support to these claims. In experiments conducted on smooth muscle cells of blood vessels, bainiku-ekisu was found to inhibit the growth-promoting signals triggered by angiotensin II, a hormone involved in the development of hypertension.

These findings suggest that bainiku-ekisu derived from the Japanese plum could serve as a valuable adjunct in reducing cardiovascular disease risk, particularly in individuals with hypertension. Further research is needed to confirm and expand upon these initial findings, but they offer a promising avenue for the development of new treatment strategies.

In order to gain a better understanding of the potential anti-hypertensive properties of bainiku-ekisu, Dr. Satoru Eguchi and Dr. Hirotoshi Utsunomiya conducted experiments using a mouse model. The researchers induced hypertension in the mice by administering infusions of angiotensin II, after which the mice were given either plain water (control group) or water containing bainiku-ekisu.

Upon evaluating the cardiovascular function and vascular tissues of the mice from both groups, significant differences were observed. Particularly, the mice that received bainiku-ekisu did not develop hypertension. Tissue analysis indicated that the juice concentrate protected the vasculature from the effects of angiotensin II. Notably, the mice given bainiku-ekisu exhibited minimal hypertrophy (enlargement) of the aorta compared to the marked hypertrophy observed in the control mice. Additionally, bainiku-ekisu attenuated the infiltration of immune cells, which are known to trigger inflammatory processes associated with hypertension.

To further investigate the mechanisms by which bainiku-ekisu prevented hypertension in mice, Dr. Eguchi and his team focused on molecular pathways related to glycolysis, the process by which cells break down glucose. Glycolysis is a central feature of hypertension-induced hypertrophy.

Dr. Eguchi explained, “In hypertension, cells shift from aerobic metabolism to glycolysis because there is less oxygen available in the cellular environment. This switch results in high levels of oxidative stress, which leads to more inflammation, more vascular stiffness, and eventually, the development of more severe cardiovascular disease.”

The team’s experiments on cells demonstrated that bainiku-ekisu prevents the shift to glycolysis, suggesting that it protects against angiotensin II-induced hypertension by counteracting detrimental metabolic changes that contribute to hypertrophy and inflammation.

Dr. Eguchi and his colleagues plan to further identify the specific compounds in bainiku-ekisu responsible for its protective effects. He noted, “There may be two or three compounds working together, which could explain why the infused juice concentrate of ume is so popular as a health supplement. Multiple compounds working together would produce additive or synergistic effects that might be lost in a pharmaceutical preparation.”

Source: Temple University

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