Salt and Hypertension: Low-sodium diets are not the solution
Here at NaturalCures, we know how important a part diet plays in your overall health. Some even report a dramatic reduction in symptoms when suffering from a chronic illness, simply by eradicating certain foods from their daily diet. With this in mind, our expert and regular NaturalCures blogger Marek Doyle – a personal trainer, nutritional therapist and director of Blueprint Fitness - tells all about why low-sodium diets are NOT the solution in the case of hypertension. Intrigued? Read on for more…
People no longer need to be told to cut down their salt. Mainly, it’s because everyone already knows it equates to ‘coronary issues in granulated form’. But more importantly, it’s simply not true that sodium is harmful. The reality is that most individuals that avoid processed foods aren’t getting enough sodium in their diet
But wait a second. Doesn’t salt cause dangerous increases in blood pressure? Isn’t adding salt to our foods akin to asking for a heart attack? Well, no. In most circumstances, increasing intake of sodium chloride has zero effect on hypertension and other cardiovascular markers. It all comes down to salt sensitivity.
There are those among us whose renin-angiotensin system simply does not work as efficiently as the rest of us. This means that their kidneys do not filter sodium out into the urine so quickly; as a result, the quantity of sodium in circulation builds when they take in too much. Osmosis dictates that this excess sodium will trigger the retention of fluids in the bloodstream, causing hypertension. While the link between salt and high blood pressure is well-known, the public seem unaware that this occurs in just a percentage of the population.
I estimate that only 1 in 10 people are ‘sodium-sensitive’. This figures comes from my own clinical experience, as there are no large scale trials that look into it. The problem persists that scientific research has consistently looked at population studies only. While these are often useful to track a statistical average, the average can be misleading. For example, take 100,000 people with an increased salt intake. 90,000 show no change in their blood pressure; 10,000 demonstrate a big leap. The average result represents a significant rise in blood pressure and another nail in the salty coffin. The resulting headlines proclaim salt to be the ‘silent killer’ but no-one considers that most people are immune from such effects.
Food companies then jump on board and disseminate the watch-your-salt message with religious fervour. Their money influences newspaper editorials and their paid-for consultants impacts on official FSA policy. They do this because: 1) salt can be replaced cheaply with chemicals like MSG in all processed food and b) painting salt as the problem ingredient reduces the public’s focus on sugar and the perfumes required to make the food edible. In essence, salt content has no impact on profit, whereas sugar and perfumes are integral to the business model. Sadly, this is how the game is played.
This explains why every individual diagnosed with high blood pressure is told to reduce their salt intake. Most do, yet very few see a difference in the figures. In other words, their blood pressure is totally independent of their salt intake. This has been known for decades (Swales, 1988). In most cases, there are issues with stress hormones or magnesium deficiency. In more rare cases, there can be more serious cardiovascular concerns.
The lazy assumption that salt intake is the single factor for hypertension means that doctors and their patients never get to the bottom of this issue. They simply give them the watch-your-salt talk and write a prescription for ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers or diuretics, inflicting further imbalance without ever wondering what brought it on in the first place. Perhaps this is why a study of 3000 hypertensive individuals found that those with the lowest salt intake had more than 4 times the heart attacks compared to those with the highest salt intake (Alderman, 1995).
Beyond just missing out on the right diagnosis, many people I see on hypotensive medications and a low salt diet are actually suffering from low-sodium symptoms. The most obvious is frequent urination (especially noticeable if you cannot go through the night without waking). However, sea salt has a wide range of benefits that include improving hydration, supporting detoxification and balancing hormones (Brownstein, 2006).
As usual, the salt issue reminds us of two key principles: that no substance is truly good or bad, but that it is excellent for us when provided in the right amounts. Equally, the right amount for you is not necessarily the right amount for me; we have more similarities than differences, but we are different. With this in mind, it pays to ensure that you are getting sufficient amount on unrefined sea salt in your foods and it pays to consider your reaction to this before jumping on any cut-it-out bandwagons.
Do you watch your salt intake? Let us know by commenting below. Did you know we also have a great array of natural recipes here on the NaturalCures site, available FREE to our members? Not yet a NaturalCures member? Head to our online store to sign up in mere minutes.
Alderman M (1995). Low urinary sodium is associated with greater risk of myocardial infarction among treated hypertensive men. Hypertension, 25: 1144-1152
Brownstein D (2006). Salt Your Way to Health. Medical Alternative Press.
Swales JD (1988). Salt saga continued: Salt has only small importance in hypertension. BMJ, 297;307-8.
A personal trainer, nutritional therapist and director of Blueprint Fitness, Marek Doyle has spent the last seven years refining his approach in both restoring health and in effective fat loss techniques. He is based in London, UK, and specializes in digestive and adrenal health. His clients include world champion athletes, models and TV celebrities and you can find him on Google+
Remember to always consult a licensed healthcare practitioner before embarking on any treatment, it’s your health and it’s IMPORTANT. Disclaimer
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