Insulin resistance is a feature common to patients with diabetes and to some with hypertension. It is assumed that this feature confers the increased metabolic risk in hypertension. However, the state of the renin-angiotensin system might contribute to cardiovascular risk, although there is no clear mechanistic explanation. Our recent observation that insulin levels are increased in a specific subset of patients with normal/high-renin hypertension, the nonmodulators, provided the background for the current hypothesis: to ascertain whether abnormalities in lipid and carbohydrate metabolism are observed in the same patients in whom alterations in sodium transport, sodium homeostasis, and the renin-aniotensin system response have been identified. Exploration of a family history of cardiovascular risk was a secondary goal. Insulin sensitivity (assessed by a 75-g oral glucose load), lipid levels, and two defects in the renin-angiotensin system were assessed in 62 hypertensive and 14 normotensive subjects placed on a high (210 mmol/l) and a low (10 mmol/l) sodium intake for 2 weeks, to classify them as low-renin, nonmodulator, or modulating hypertensive subjects. Only in nonmodulators were the following cardiovascular risk factors significantly increased: fasting insulin (P < 0.01); increment in post-glucose load insulin (P < 0.01); total, LDL, and VLDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels (P < 0.05); and erythrocyte Na+/Li+ countertransport activity (P < 0.001). Both nonmodulators and low-renin hypertensive subjects had a significantly (P < 0.01) increased frequency of a family history of hypertension by questionnaire compared with subjects with intact modulation. However, only nonmodulators had a significantly (P < 0.02) higher frequency of a family history of myocardial infarction. Thus, there is a clustering of metabolic abnormalities in a discrete subset of the essential hypertensive population with a specific dysregulation of the renin-angiotensin system--nonmodulation. The absence of this cluster in low-renin hypertensive subjects may explain their relatively diminished cardiovascular risk. Its presence in nonmodulators likely contributes to the increased cardiovascular risk observed in normal/high-renin hypertension.

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