Treat High Blood Pressure Naturally: Lose the Salt

April 15, 2019

References: The Lancet April 2019He BMJ 2013NEJM 2010 Bibbins-DomingoNutrientsHarvard Health, David DeRose

This sounds so mundane that you yawn and want to skip the news. Don't! The data shows SALT as the NUMBER ONE cause of premature death in the world today. Number 1. That includes cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure. The works. 
In this study released last week in The Lancet, the authors looked at which diets ended up shortening lives the most. Excess salt exceeds the risk of smoking. The use of excess salt results in 3 million excess deaths a year. The other two signature problems showed up as insufficient whole grains, and insufficient fruit. Goodness. 
We have considered salt a problem for a long time. The three foundational pillars of blood pressure control are 1) Losing weight, if overweight, 2) Eating whole foods instead of processed foods, and 3) decreasing salt. Salt has always been in the running.

Dr. He did a meta-analysiswith the Cochrane Collaboration and produced the definitive review of salt literature in 2013. Thirty-four studies were combined to conclude what a powerful blood pressure lowering effect reducing salt has. Many folks consume as much as 9 grams a day of salt. The recommended goal was to get to 3 grams. 
In America, another major study showed the effect that would have on lives saved. In the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010, Dr. Bibbins-Domingo demonstrated that in the US we would reduce cardiac disease and stroke by some 30-50% saving some $ 25 billion a year in health care costs if we cut the salt to 3 grams a day. (In perspective, 3 grams is about 1/2 a tsp.) 
What's the reason for this power? It's back to the principle of the balance of sodium to potassium and magnesium. Just a thousand years ago, or more, we ate much, much less sodium (700 mg a day) and more vegetables, aka, potassium (1100 mg). The net effect was that the ratio of potassium to sodium changed dramatically. What used to be 16 molecules of potassium to 1 of sodium (a potassium dominant pattern) has reversed into a 1-to-4 ratio (for a sodium-dominant pattern). There are now calls to use the urinary Na-K excretion ratio as the best method of determining whether one has enough of a sodium reduction or potassium increase.

Your kidneys struggle to keep up with that change in relationship. Every single last cell in your body uses a potassium-sodium ratio across their membranes to pump vital nutrients across the membrane. When you flood the system with much more sodium, you screw up all those membranes. It's really that simple. 

Where does sodium sneak into our diet? Many ways. Mostly prepared foods but we inflict more sodium on ourselves in the form of salty sports drinks. If you are dripping sweat from football practice in 102-degree weather, have some salt. But if you are just a little tired, or my goodness, don't poison yourself.

WWW: What will work for me. I've stopped salting my food. Just stopped. After about a week, I'm noticing that the flavor feels back to normal. It took a couple of days of feeling like the food was lower in taste that I liked, but now that feeling is gone. There is literature to show that effect to be true. I'm off most prepared food but I sure enjoy ethnic cuisine at a night out. I suspect I get a lot there without realizing it. And no sports drinks for me.

Pop Quiz

  1. What is the average consumption of salt in America, per day? Answer: about 6-7 grams a day
  2. How much salt is that in relation to a teaspoon? Answer: Two
  3. If I could cut that down to ________, I would be under the recommended limit of three grams a day. Answer: 1/2 teaspoon.
  4. I'm aiming to raise my Sodium to potassium ratio. How can I do that effectively? Answer: The more raw vegetables you eat, the better. Steam them if you cook them. But don't boil. That green color is all the potassium and magnesium leaking out.
  5. Name one strategy you can do to reduce your salt? ________________

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