It might be difficult to believe that rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash could somehow affect anything other than your teeth and gums. But a new study suggests that those who gargle may be hindering the blood pressure-lowering benefits you get from working out.
Previous studies have shown that the mouthwash ingredient chlorhexidine raised blood pressure in resting participants by halting the production of nitric oxide (which relaxes arteries). So researchers from the University of Plymouth in England wanted to figure out how this might hinder the nitric oxide produced by exercise and its ability to lower blood pressure during and after working out.
In a small study, researchers observed 23 adults who were asked to run for 30 minutes on a treadmill. They then staggered having them rinse their mouth out with either mouthwash or a mint-flavored placebo at one, 30, 60, and 90 minutes after the workout.
An hour after the workout, those who rinsed with a placebo were shown to have a 60 percent better ability to lower their blood pressure and maintain it than those who used mouthwash. In fact, after two hours, there was no sign of lowered blood pressure at all in the participants who used the mouthwash.
These results led researchers to believe there’s a beneficial connection between the natural bacteria in our mouths and the ability to lower blood pressure. Craig Cutler, one of the co-authors of the study, explained, “These findings show that nitrite synthesis by oral bacteria is hugely important in kick-starting how our bodies react to exercise over the first period of recovery, promoting lower blood pressure and greater muscle oxygenation.” In more simple terms, Cutler compared our oral bacteria to keys that unlock our blood vessels, which then allows the pressure to lower and build muscles.
More research will need to be done, so there’s no need to skip this step completely. Cindy Geyer, MD, just recommends opting for a mouthwash that doesn't contain chlorhexidine, like Tom’s of Maine (3 pack for $21.56, Amazon).
After all, you don't want to sacrifice one area of health for another. Here's to keeping our whole bodies happy!