Pets more effective in lowering hypertension among the stressed, than some meds.

If you wanted to test a theory that owning a pet helps hypertensives who are highly stressed, a good place to look for participants would be among stockbrokers.

In a study, titled “Pet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress,” researchers did exactly this. They enrolled 48 male and female stockbrokers who were being treated with medication to control high blood pressure. All earned more than $200,000 a year, had lived alone for at least the last 5 years and had highly stressful jobs.

The researchers, including social psychologist Karen Allen, Ph.D., State University of New York, Buffalo, found that stockbrokers with high blood pressure who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than did their non-pet-owning counterparts.

Before the study began, they asked the participants to quickly count backward by 17 or try arguing their way out of a shoplifting charge. During these exercises, blood pressure levels reached an average peak way above normal – even above what doctors generally consider “high.”

At the start of the study, the brokers were prescribed the anti-hypertension drug, lisinopril. Half of the participants were randomly selected to also get a dog or cat as a house pet. Six months later, the researchers conducted tests in the participants’ homes to measure changes in blood pressure. They found that stress-induced blood pressure continued to rise in the brokers without pets.

The brokers who owned pets also had stress-related rises in blood pressure, but these rises were only half as high as those seen in the petless group. The pet-owning brokers also had average systolic pressures within the normal healthy range. Stress-related peaks in diastolic pressure were also lower.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that while the drug lisinopril helped lower resting blood pressures, pet ownership is better at helping to control stress-induced peaks in blood pressure.

According to Allen, after the study when they told the group that didn’t have pets about the findings, many went out and got a pet. “This study shows that if you have high blood pressure, a pet is very good for you when you’re under stress, and pet ownership is especially good for you if you have a limited support system,” she said.

She said that the physiological reasons as to why pets lower blood pressure are not clear, but that perhaps “having someone on your side ― someone you can always count on that is non-judgmental ― psychologically creates a beneficial atmosphere.”

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