Salt and Hypertension

By Hans Diehl, M.D.

The evidence that high salt intake and high blood pressure is closely associated is no longer refutable. Americans consume 10-15 times more salt than the body requires!

Population studies have shown that the higher the salt intake, the larger the prevalence of hypertension. In America, some 68 million have high blood pressure. That's every third adult. By the time a person is 70 years old, the likelihood of hypertension is 3 out of 4.

Why Do Americans Eat So Much Salt?

In today’s life it’s hard to get away from salt. About 75% of our salt intake comes from fast and processed foods. A taste for salt is easy to develop, and salty snacks and foods abound to accommodate us.

How Much Salt Is Enough Salt?

While sodium is essential for body metabolism, too much can cause trouble. Excess sodium can stay in body tissues and hold extra water. This causes swelling, which raises the blood pressure, which in turn increases stress on the heart.

People need less than half a gram of salt a day—about one fifth of a teaspoon. Sodium, the key particle in salt, occurs naturally in foods—more than enough to meet daily needs.

Our best guess is that some 40 million North Americans with mild essential hypertension could normalize their blood pressure within weeks by just cutting their salt intake to less than one teaspoon a day—still 5x the salt needed by the body, and losing weight!

What About Medications For Hypertension?

The past few years have produced an avalanche of new drugs that are effective in lowering blood pressure. Some are lifesaving. Most produce prompt results—the quick fix that Americans love.

But a closer look at anti-hypertensive medications reveals some disquieting facts: the drugs do not cure hypertension; they only control it. In some cases the medications need to be taken for life. Unpleasant side effects may include fatigue, depression, and lack of sexual desire and impotence. While the drugs help protect against strokes, they do not protect against coronary atherosclerosis (narrowing of the coronary arteries). Some may actually promote atherosclerosis, diabetes, and gouty arthritis.  

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