The Salt Break­through

HOW MUCH SALT IS TOO MUCH? AND CAN TOO LIT­TLE RAISE YOUR BLOOD PRES­SURE?

Better Nutrition - - CONTENTS - BY VERA TWEED

For years, we’ve been told that a high-sodium diet leads to high blood pres­sure. But is that re­ally the case? New re­search from the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia says, “no.” In fact, a high-sodium diet may ac­tu­ally lower blood pres­sure in some peo­ple. Here’s a look at the lat­est re­search on salt, plus tips on how to en­sure that you’re get­ting just the right amount of sodium for you.

Salt has a bad rap for rais­ing blood pres­sure and risk for heart dis­ease and stroke, but some stud­ies have ques­tioned the low-salt mantra. For ex­am­ple, the Fram­ing­ham Off­spring Study fol­lowed more than 2,600 men and women for 16 years and found that those who con­sumed less than 2,500 mg of sodium daily had higher blood pres­sure than those who con­sumed more. This flies in the face of lim­its rec­om­mended by the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion of 2,300 mg of sodium daily, and ide­ally no more than 1,500 mg daily for most older peo­ple. It’s be­come a mud­dled is­sue. En­ter the Salt Sen­si­tiv­ity Study (salt­study.com) at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia in Char­lottesvill­e. An NIH-funded re­search project that’s been go­ing on for the past 10 years, it’s shed­ding some new light on the salt scene.

The Break­through

“A low-salt diet may not be ben­e­fi­cial to ev­ery­one and may para­dox­i­cally in­crease blood pres­sure in some in­di­vid­u­als,” says the study’s prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Robin Felder, PhD. Bot­tom line: Each of us has a unique sweet spot for salt in­take, called a “per­sonal salt index” by the re­searchers, and your health risks will be low­est if you eat the right amount—not much more or less than your op­ti­mum amount.

How likely are you to need more or less salt? Ini­tial test­ing in the Salt Study has found three cat­e­gories of re­ac­tions to salt:

* Sodium doesn’t af­fect blood pres­sure in 72 per­cent of peo­ple, de­scribed by re­searchers as “salt-re­sis­tant.” * A high-sodium diet raises blood pres­sure in 17 per­cent of peo­ple, de­scribed as “salt-sen­si­tive,” and a low-sodium diet will lower their blood pres­sure.

* For 11 per­cent of peo­ple, de­scribed as “in­verse salt-sen­si­tive,” a low-sodium diet will ac­tu­ally raise blood pres­sure. In­creas­ing sodium will lower blood pres­sure.

Which Type Are You?

There isn’t any med­i­cal test to find your per­sonal salt index, but you can do this: eat a low-sodium diet for a week, and then a high-sodium diet for an­other week and mea­sure your blood pres­sure along the way. For test pur­poses, low-sodium is no more than 400 mg daily and high­sodium is 1,800–2,000 mg of sodium daily.

Here are some other clues from Felder: At a foot­ball game where peo­ple load up on beer and salty hot dogs and snacks at the start, the in­verse salt­sen­si­tive will be the first wave of peo­ple to go to the bath­room be­cause they quickly elim­i­nate water and salt. The salt-re­sis­tant will go later in the game. And the salt-sen­si­tive may not go at all un­til they get home.

If you eat an un­usu­ally salty meal and feel re­ally bloated the next morn­ing or no­tice a gain of a few pounds on the bath­room scale, it’s water re­ten­tion. You’re likely salt-sen­si­tive.

How the Right Amount of Salt Keeps You Healthy

El­e­vated blood pres­sure read­ings dur­ing the day­time are only one pos­si­ble sign of too much or too lit­tle sodium. Eat­ing the right amount also plays a vi­tal role in re­pair­ing ar­ter­ies while you sleep, help­ing to pre­vent ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis, di­a­betes, and stroke.

“At night, our blood pres­sure is pro­grammed geneticall­y to drop about 10 per­cent and then come back up in the morn­ing,” says Felder. “That 10-per­cent drop is the time when your body is re­pair­ing cap­il­lar­ies.”

By track­ing blood pres­sure while peo­ple slept, the Salt Study found that the wrong amount of salt is harm­ful be­cause it in­ter­feres with the nor­mal night­time drop. “At night,” says Felder, “if you aren’t dip­ping, you aren’t re­pair­ing.”

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