Barbershops Help Lower High Blood Pressure in African-American Men

Barbershop study trims black men's hair, blood pressure

Normal blood pressure levels are 120/80 or less, and high blood pressure levels are 140/90 or higher. By contrast, men who interacted with their barber and a pharmacist saw their systolic blood pressure drop from 153 mm Hg at the start of the study to 126 mm Hg after six months, along with a drop in diastolic blood pressure of 18 mm Hg. A pharmacist-led intervention referred to barbers encouraging meetings in barbershops with specialty-trained pharmacists who prescribed medications under a collaborative practice agreement with the participants' doctors. "It's a no-brainer that black men are at the highest risk of high blood pressure".

As CNN reported, Dr. Joseph Ravenell, an internist at NYU Langone Health, and his colleagues previously researched how barbershops and other community-based strategies could help diagnose and treat hypertension and colorectal cancer. Ronald Victor, a cardiologist with Cedars-Sinai thought the power of familiar faces and a trusted place, such as a barbershop, would be effective.

"Medical mistrust has been an important barrier to African-Americans seeking health care, and so the barbershop - where men go on a monthly basis and have an opportunity to develop a rapport with a trusted key opinion leader in the community - that rapport is a flawless foundation for talking about health", he said. The rest were given advice and encouragement on healthy lifestyle choices from their barber, who urged them to see a doctor for follow up. The culture of trust in barbershops has also made it a critical space for health interventions for black men. At six months, 100 percent of those seeing a pharmacist and 63 percent of those seeing only a barber were taking blood pressure medications. Uncontrolled hypertension is a significant problem among non-Hispanic black men, the researchers note. The individuals were split into two groups-one group got pamphlets and blood pressure tips during their haircuts. These differential targets and measurement locations may have factored into the results, and "normotensive office readings that mask high out-of-office blood pressure are common in black patients", they wrote. At the six-month mark, 11.7% of the group brought their blood pressure into the healthy range, the study found. "It is often challenging to get people who need blood pressure medication to take them, even as costs and side effects have gone down over the years. With this program, we have been able to overcome that barrier".

Eric Muhammad, who owns one of the barbershops used in the study, hit the nail on the head: "There's open communication in a barbershop".

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"A big takeaway from this study is to release the fears", said Muhammad, who is a co-author of the study.

Researchers have started a second phase of the study to determine if the benefits can be sustained for another six months. Victor now aims to do a study of 3,000 men in many cities around the country that will include a look at that.

The study was funded by a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, among other funding sources. The results were announced March 12 at the American College of Cardiology conference in Orlando, Florida.

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