You've heard the benefits of a college degree before, but new research suggests that there's a healthful one, too.

According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, education trumps genetics as a predictor of high blood pressure in African Americans. The study, published in the August 2012 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, examined data from nearly 3,700 white and African-American adults participating in the Family Blood Pressure Program Study and found that among African-American participants, each year of education was associated with a 0.51 mmHg drop in blood pressure.

Four years of additional education would result in a decrease of 2 mmHg systolic (the top number) blood pressure, lead author, Amy Non, predicted, a decrease that could contribute to a reduction in hypertension-related deaths.

A similar study by researchers at Brown University looked at nearly 4,000 participants over the course of 30 years and found the effects of education on blood pressure may be higher in women. After adjusting for age, they found that female participants with fewer than 12 years of education had 2.69 mmHg higher blood pressure than those who'd been in school for at least 17 years.

Nom says that education can lead to higher levels of health knowledge and improved health behaviors, better job opportunities and a more positive attitude.

"While genetics undoubtedly plays a role in hypertension, our findings suggest that education level plays an even larger role in health disparities in hypertension," she told MSNBC. "This means that improved access to education among African Americans may reduce racial disparities in blood pressure."

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  • Kiwis

    Research presented at a meeting last year of the American Heart Association shows that eating <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/16/kiwis-blood-pressure-apples_n_1097364.html" target="_hplink">three kiwis a day</a> is linked with decreased blood pressure. That study included 188 men and women age 55 and older, with slightly high blood pressure. They were instructed to eat three kiwis a day, or an apple a day for eight weeks. The researchers found that the people who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/16/kiwis-blood-pressure-apples_n_1097364.html" target="_hplink">ate the kiwis</a> had lower systolic blood pressure levels than those who ate the apples. Kiwis are known to be rich in lutein, which means they have antioxidant properties. <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/hulagway/5941766050/">by whologwhy</a>.</em>

  • Peas, Bananas And Other Potassium-Rich Foods

    A 2005 study in the journal <em>Hypertension</em> found that it's possible to get the blood pressure-lowering effects from <a href="http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0705c.shtml" target="_hplink">potassium-containing foods</a>, instead of just from a potassium supplement. Researchers from St. George's Medical School in London found that people who consumed potassium citrate -- which is found naturally in food -- has the same effects in <a href="http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0705c.shtml" target="_hplink">decreasing blood pressure</a> in people with hypertension as those who took potassium chloride, which is only available as a supplement, Harvard Medical School reported. <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/robin24/5131280208/">by robin_24</a>.</em>

  • Watermelon

    <a href="http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/watermelon-lowers-blood-pressure-study-finds" target="_hplink">Watermelon</a> is not just refreshing, it contains a bounty of nutrients including fiber, lycopenes, vitamin A and potassium, according to the Mother Nature Network. And, a study from Florida State University researchers shows that an amino acid found -- called <a href="http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/watermelon-lowers-blood-pressure-study-finds" target="_hplink">L-citrulline/L-arginine</a> -- in watermelon could also have blood pressure-lowering effects. The researchers had nine people with prehypertension take 6 grams of the L-citrulline/L-arginine amino acid a day over a six-week period. They found that the study participants had lower blood pressure, as well as better functioning of their arteries. <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/gudlyf/3657294414/">by Gudlyf</a>.</em>

  • (Purple) Potatoes

    Spuds may get a bad rap in the foodsphere, but a small study presented last year at a meeting of the American Chemical Society showed that the purple-hued root vegetables have <a href="http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=222&content_id=CNBP_028109&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=6e3e7956-f304-482b-96f2-b644d1a2aaa5" target="_hplink">blood pressure-lowering powers</a> that are nearly as effective as oatmeal, without packing on pounds. The study included 18 people with high blood pressure. They ate six to eight <a href="http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=222&content_id=CNBP_028109&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=6e3e7956-f304-482b-96f2-b644d1a2aaa5" target="_hplink">purple potatoes</a> (including the skins!) twice a day, for a month-long period. The researchers found that the study participants' systolic and diastolic blood pressure dropped at the end of the research period. (Though, it should be noted that this was just an observational study, and the potato-eaters' blood pressure was not compared to people who did not eat purple potatoes during the study.) <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/taransa/5499878925/">by Taransa</a>.</em>

  • Tofu

    Eating a lot of tofu and other soy foods -- like soy nuts, miso, edamame, tempeh and soy milk -- is linked with <a href="http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/news/20120327/soy-nutrient-may-lower-blood-pressure" target="_hplink">decreased blood pressure</a>, WebMD reported. The study, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, included 5,000 people whose diets were tracked over 20 years. The researchers found that the ones who <a href="http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/news/20120327/soy-nutrient-may-lower-blood-pressure" target="_hplink">consumed the most isoflavones</a> -- found in soy, as well as peanuts and green tea -- had lower systolic blood pressure than those who consumed the fewest isoflavones, according to WebMD. <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotoosvanrobin/5776783857/">by FotoosVanRobin</a>.</em>

  • Chocolate

    Chocolate is linked with a lower BMI -- <em>and</em> it could be beneficial for people with hypertension. A 2010 review of studies in the journal <em>BMC Medicine</em> showed that <a href="http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/8/39" target="_hplink">flavanols</a>, which are found in chocolate, seemed to promote the dilation of blood vessels, which in turn can lower blood pressure. "Flavanols have been shown to increase the formation of endothelial nitric oxide, which promotes vasodilation and consequently may lower blood pressure," study researcher Dr. Karin Ried, of the University of Adelaide in Austria, said <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100628075746.htm" target="_hplink">in a statement</a>. "There have, however, been conflicting results as to the real-life effects of eating chocolate. We've found that consumption can significantly, albeit modestly, reduce blood pressure for people with high blood pressure but not for people with normal blood pressure." <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sionakaren/3871516012/">by Siona Karen</a>.</em>

  • Chili Peppers

    If you love a little heat with your food, it could be doing your <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413110002287" target="_hplink">blood pressure</a> a favor, too. A 2010 study in the journal <em>Cell Metabolism</em> showed that <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413110002287" target="_hplink">capsaicin</a> -- the spicy ingredient in chili peppers -- could help to lower blood pressure in rats with hypertension. However, the researchers from the Third Military Medical University in China noted that the results need to be replicated in humans. <em>Flickr photo <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/trostle/6114402110/">by Trostle</a>.</em>

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