Los Angeles,
00:00 AM

Today Show: Barbershops Fight High Blood Pressure in African-Americans

The Today Show sat down with Ronald G. Victor, MD, associate director of the Smidt Heart Institute, to learn why he turned to African-American barbers to help cut high blood pressure in the community. 

“Black men have the highest rates of high-blood-pressure-related disability and death of any group in the United States,” Victor told the Today Show.

Hypertension -- blood pressure above 130 over 80 -- is often called the silent killer because patients don't feel symptoms. But uncontrolled hypertension can lead to heart failure, stroke and kidney disease. Victor, a hypertension specialist, wanted to make healthcare easily available where African-American men are likely to be found: At their favorite barbershop. 

Victor's latest study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine. showed that African-American men lowered their high blood pressure to healthy levels when aided by a pharmacist and their barber. 

With the help of African-American barbers who were trained how to measure blood pressure, 319 African-American men from 52 Los Angeles-area barbershops participated in the study. The study participants had a systolic blood pressure reading of more than 140 mmHg, placing them at high risk of heart attack and stroke. 

The men were randomly assigned to two groups. The first group's barbers encouraged patrons to meet with specially trained pharmacists who were stationed in the barbershops. The pharmacists prescribed blood pressure medication, monitored blood tests and then sent progress notes to each patron's primary care provider.

In the second group, barbers encouraged their patrons to follow up with a primary care provider for treatment and make lifestyle changes, such as increasing exercise and decreasing salt consumption. After six months, almost two-thirds of participants in the group working with pharmacists brought their blood pressure into the healthy range.

Men who met only with their barber saw their blood pressure drop as well, but not as dramatically.

“We saw nothing but results," said barber Eric Muhammad, owner of A New You Barbershop in Inglewood. "Every single one of my clients that was involved in the study, during the time of the study their blood pressure went down.” 

Watch the Today Show story