Dec. 31 (UPI) -- A food source consumed by the Aztecs until the 16th century could bring new hope for people with high blood pressure, a study says.
The findings, published in the journal Hypertension, showed that isolated peptides known as SP6 lowered the blood pressure of hypertensive animals in lab experiments.
"Our research started by conducting simulated gastrointestinal digestion on the raw extract of spirulina. In other words, we reproduced what happens in the human gut after ingesting the substance. This way we have been able to isolate the peptides that would be absorbed by our body," said Albino Carrizzo, a researcher at University of Salerno and the study's first author.
SP6 is an extract of spirulina, a cyanobacterium reportedly eaten by Aztecs and other Mesoamericans until the 16th century.
NASA has considered the superfood for a nutrient source for Mars space missions.
In the experiment, SP6 displayed a vasodilatory action that helped dilate the blood vessel in lab animals. Blood pressure builds up when blood vessels are constricted, causing the heart to work harder.
About 75 million people in the United States suffer from high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We know that hypertensive patients often have a defect in the natural processes that, by the action of nitric oxide, regulate endothelium," the inner wall of blood vessels, said Carmine Vecchione, a researcher at University of Salerno and study co-author. "The peptide we isolated in spirulina extract acts positively on this mechanism. Of course, further research will be necessary, but we think that SP6 could be a natural adjuvant to common pharmacological therapies in order to improve endothelial function and, consequently, combat hypertension."