Does the skin play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart rate when oxygen is scarce? According to research by the University of Cambridge and the Karolinska Institute in Solna, Sweden, the answer could be yes. We talked to Dr. Daniela Pini, a cardiology specialist in Humanitas, about how the body reacts when it is “hungry” for oxygen and the risks associated with hypertension.
How does the skin regulate pressure?
The causes can be different, ranging from pollution, smoking or obesity or simply from the fact that a person is at high altitude. However, when a tissue receives little oxygen, the blood flow increases. The increase is controlled by a family of proteins, identified by the acronym Hif, produced by the skin. Laboratory experiments have shown that alterations in the production of these proteins by the skin interfere with the response to low oxygen levels, affecting heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature and the overall activity levels of the organisms studied. According to experts, this suggests that the skin plays an important role in controlling blood pressure when oxygen is scarce.
“These findings suggest that our skin’s response to low oxygen levels can have substantial effects on the way the heart pumps blood into the body,” explained Andrew Cowburn, who directed the study. The low presence of oxygen, whether temporary or prolonged, is a common condition and can be related to the natural environment or factors such as smoking and obesity. We hope that our study will help us better understand how our body’s response to these conditions can increase risk or even cause hypertension.
The opinion of Humanitas
“This study is interesting, because it shows how the skin, our largest organ, but surprisingly little investigated, has a relevant role in the response of the cardiovascular system to lack of oxygen – said the specialist. This role appears mediated by the family of Hif proteins. The mechanisms by which these proteins exert their action on the cardiovascular system could become the target of new strategies for the treatment of hypertension, a very common condition, an important cardiovascular risk factor, but under-treated. Another very interesting potential implication of this study is that the skin could become the preferred intervention point for the prevention or treatment of hypertension, opening the field to innovative approaches, such as topical therapies for hypertension, which may still be an overreach.