Scientists Say “Trust Us” on Blood Pressure Study

The New York Times reports on a big U-turn in the study of low blood pressure:

Declaring they had “potentially lifesaving information,” federal health officials said on Friday that they were ending a major study more than a year early because it has already conclusively answered a question cardiologists have puzzled over for decades: how low should blood pressure go? The answer: way lower than the current guidelines.

….Less than two years ago, a National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute panel went the opposite direction. People had been told to aim for a systolic blood pressure of 140. But the panel recommended a goal of 150 for people ages 60 and older, arguing that there were no convincing data showing lower is better.

Given the fact that this represents a major change to a recommendation from two years ago, it would be nice to see the data. And yet, apparently it hasn’t been released. Austin Frakt is annoyed:

I have high blood pressure, so this is of more than academic interest to me. I’ve also heard plenty of horror stories of people being massively overmedicated in an effort to get their blood pressure below some magical target. So if you want me to get my systolic blood pressure down to 110 or so, you’d better have some mighty convincing data.

But of course, this is not about me me me. Frakt is right: this is just bad science, and it’s especially bad in the areas of health and nutrition, which are overrun with both crankery and constantly changing recommendations. If you have big news, release it in a reputable journal and let other experts take a look at it. Don’t announce blockbuster findings and then promise that “a paper with the data would be published within a few months.” This is not the way to do things.