Genetically modified rice could one day help keep your blood pressure down © Getty Images

Genetically modified rice could one day help keep your blood pressure down

Unlike traditional blood pressure medication, the modified rice showed no side effects.

Researchers have lowered rats’ blood pressure by feeding them rice harvested from a plant genetically edited to produce medicine known to reduce hypertension.

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High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Medication for the condition, known as ACE inhibitors, often comes with a long list of potential side effects including dry cough, headaches, rashes and kidney impairment.

However the research, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry noted that ACE Inhibitors derived from natural sources like milk, eggs and vegetables tend to have fewer side effects. With that in mind they engineered a breed of rice plant to produce a range of these compounds along with a few chemicals known to relax blood vessels.

The researchers extracted protein from the transgenic rice and administered it to rats with hypertension. Two hours after treatment, the rats showed an improvement in their blood pressure and after being fed flour made from the rice for a month the rats showed a consistent improvement, with the effect lasting a week after the treatment stopped.

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The research reported no obvious side effects and the researchers say that if this were to be scaled up to an adult human, they would need just half a teaspoon a day to treat hypertension.

There’s a still a way to go before the rice hits the supermarket, however. Human trials would need to take place first, and of course there’s the growing debate about whether genetically modified crops should be allowed in the first place.

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Using Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to produce medicine is however not unusual. An engineered variant of baker’s yeast is used to produce a vaccine for hepatitis B and a version of E.coli is used to produce insulin for diabetics. And indeed other researchers are looking into modified plants that could produce the compounds needed for treatment of HIV and diabetes.

Reader Q&A: Are there any artificial salt substitutes?

Asked by: Edward Seymour, Hove

Table salt tends to be sodium chloride (NaCl) but salt substitutes contain potassium chloride (KCl), which has a similar taste. These are billed as lowering the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease associated with high sodium consumption.

But potassium chloride is not without its downsides. It can interact with some prescription drugs and can be dangerous if you have kidney problems.

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