Bar­ber­shop study trimmed black men's hair and blood pres­sure

South Florida Times - - HEALTH - By AP Chief Med­i­cal Writer ex­pert;and Dr.Ale­jan­dro Adler,from the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, among oth­ers.

MARILYNN MARCHIONE

OR­LANDO, Fla. - Trim your hair, your beard, your blood pres­sure? Black men re­duced one of their big­gest med­i­cal risks through a novel pro­ject that shows the power of fa­mil­iar faces and trusted places to im­prove health.

The pro­ject had phar­ma­cists work with dozens of Los An­ge­les bar­ber­shops to test and treat clients. The re­sults, re­ported Mon­day at a car­di­ol­ogy con­fer­ence, have doc­tors plan­ning to ex­pand the pro­ject to more cities na­tion­wide. “There's open com­mu­ni­ca­tion in a bar­ber­shop.There's a re­la­tion­ship, a trust,” said Eric Muham­mad, owner of A New You Bar­ber­shop, one of the bar­bers who par­tic­i­pated. “We have a lot more in­flu­ence than just the doc­tor walk­ing in the door.”

Black men have high rates of high blood pres­sure - a top read­ing over 130 or a bot­tom one over 80 - and the prob­lems it can cause, such as strokes and heart at­tacks. Only half of Amer­i­cans with high pres­sure have it un­der con­trol; many don't even know they have the con­di­tion.

Churches, beauty sa­lons and other com­mu­nity spots have been used to reach groups that of­ten lack ac­cess to doc­tors, to pro­mote cancer screen­ings and other ser­vices. Dr. Ron­ald Vic­tor, a car­di­ol­o­gist at Cedars-Si­nai Med­i­cal Cen­ter, wanted to reach black men.

“Bar­ber­shops are a uniquely pop­u­lar meet­ing place for African-Amer­i­can men,” and many have gone ev­ery other week to the same barber for many years, he said.“It al­most has a so­cial club feel to it, a de­light­ful, friendly en­vi­ron­ment” that makes it ideal for im­prov­ing health.

Vic­tor did a study in 17 Dal­las bar­ber­shops a few years ago. In that one, bar­bers tested pa­trons and re­ferred them to doc­tors. Im­prove­ments were mod­est.

In the new study, “we added a phar­ma­cist into the mix” so medicines could be pre­scribed on the spot, he said. The new work in­volved 303 men and 52 bar­ber­shops. One group of cus­tomers just got pam­phlets and blood pres­sure tips while they were get­ting hair­cuts. An­other group met with phar­ma­cists in the bar­ber­shops and could get treat­ment if their blood pres­sure was high.

At the start of the study, their top pres­sure num­ber av­er­aged 154. Af­ter six months, it fell by nine points for cus­tomers just given ad­vice and by 27 points for those who saw phar­ma­cists.

Nearly two-thirds of the men who saw phar­ma­cists low­ered their pres­sure to un­der 130 over 80 - the thresh­old for high blood pres­sure un­der new guide­lines adopted last fall. Only 12 per­cent of the men who just got ad­vice dropped to that level.

“This is a home run ... high­touch medicine,” said one in­de­pen­dent ex­pert, Eileen Hand­berg, a heart re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Florida in Gainesville. Most drug tri­als only dream about such good re­sults, yet they were achieved in a reg­u­lar com­mu­nity set­ting, she said.

Nine­teen of Muham­mad's cus­tomers fin­ished the pro­gram, and “all their blood pres­sures were down, ev­ery sin­gle one of them,” he said.

Marc Sims, a 43-year-old records clerk at a law firm, is one. He didn't know he had high pres­sure - 175 over 125 - and the phar­ma­cist said he was at risk of hav­ing a stroke.

“It woke me up,” said Sims, who has a young son. “All I could think about was me hav­ing a stroke and not be­ing here for him. It was time to get my health right.”

Medicines low­ered his pres­sure to 125 over 95.

Treat­ment doesn't al­ways mean medicines; health­ier life­styles can do a lot. Poor di­ets, lack of ex­er­cise and other bad habits cause most high blood pres­sure.

The Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health paid for the study. Re­sults were dis­cussed at an Amer­i­can Col­lege of Car­di­ol­ogy con­fer­ence in Or­lando and pub­lished by the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine.

The cost of do­ing this isn't re­ally known. Vic­tor now aims to do a study of 3,000 men in many cities around the coun­try that will in­clude a look at that. He also hopes to tackle high choles­terol with a sim­i­lar ap­proach.

The re­sults show that ``you don't need car­di­ol­o­gists'' to im­prove things, said Dr. Wil­lie Lawrence, an Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion spokesman and blood pres­sure spe­cial­ist in Kansas City, Mis­souri.“We can part­ner with oth­ers in the com­mu­nity and get this epi­demic un­der con­trol.”

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