Friday, October 22, 2010

Does Salt Cause High Blood Pressure?

According to the CDC, one in three Americans has high blood pressure. And, though we’ve pushed the “watch your salt intake” message to death (yes, even I recommend this for the masses, with a caveat or two though) it’s time to take a closer look at what really causes high blood pressure and also take the anti-salt mantra with well, a grain of salt.

First, let’s take a look at what causes high blood pressure. Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood pushing against artery walls. And systolic (the higher number) is the pressure when your heart beats and pumps out blood to the body while diastolic is the pressure in your arteries at rest. Over time high blood pressure damages artery walls leaving behind areas that plaque can stick to very well. Plus, high blood pressure makes your heart work harder.

Those at greater risk for high blood pressure are:
- men over 45 and women over 55 (your artery walls are not as elastic when you age )
- family history
- lifestyle habits including:
- inactivity
- being overweight or obese
- smoking
- drinking too much alcohol
- excessive sodium consumption
- too little dietary potassium

And 90% of the people I’ve seen with high blood pressure are overweight and inactive. Amazingly enough when they drop some lbs and start exercising, their blood pressure often normalizes.

Now back to salt. While I think people should be mindful of their sodium intake, I think they need to spend more time focused on losing weight, getting active and quitting smoking. Secondly, people’s response to sodium varies tremendously. And lastly, it isn’t a good idea to cut out all salt from your diet because we need the iodine in iodized salt for proper thyroid functioning and according to some of the foremost nutrition scientist in the world, the recommendation to consume less than 2,760 mg sodium per day (CDC recommends 1,500 mg) is wrought with many assumptions including: "1) that the basic biology of the organism should be ignored; 2) that intakes below this threshold are not potentially harmful; 3) that the food industry can produce foods of such reduced sodium content and its attendant changes in texture, taste, and stability that people will change their eating habits; and 4) that people will desire to make these changes rather than see them as unwarranted constraints on a fundamental element of human behavior, ie, choosing the foods they eat."

For the most accurate blood pressure reading, follow these guidelines from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

Sure, you can cut the sodium down from 4,000 mg a day but, don't go too low.....

1 comment:

  1. And don't forget the DASH diet, which has been proven to lower blood pressure independently of weight, exercise, or salt intake.

    Marla Heller, MS, RD, author of The DASH Diet Action Plan.