The association between sodium consumption and blood pressure levels has been known for many years. According to researchers, in addition to lowering blood pressure, a low-salt diet may also help other ailments, including osteoporosis, Meniere’s Disease, kidney stones, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other ailments.
Click on a condition below to find out more.
According to a Finnish study, middle-aged people with high blood pressure and cholesterol are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life, but treating those conditions early may help avoid the disease.
Not only that, researchers in the Netherlands find that people who have other so-called vascular diseases like atherosclerosis or diabetes and people who smoke also have a greater risk of developing dementia later in life.
It is thought that having high blood pressure or atherosclerosis causes damage to the small blood vessels of the brain, which leads to loss of cerebral tissue. This in turn leads to diminishing cognitive function and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
In the U.S., someone suffers a stroke every 53 seconds, nearly 600,000 each year. It is America’s third leading cause of death.
What is a Stroke?
There are two types of stroke – ischemic (iss-kee-mik) and hemorrhagic (heh-muh-ra-jik).
- An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is blocked, causing a loss of blood and oxygen to the affected part of the brain. Once the nerve cells can’t work, that area of the brain dies and the part of the body it controls is unable to function.There is also what is called a “mini stroke” or transient ischemic attack (TIA). This occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is blocked for a short time, causing less blood to reach the brain. Someone experiencing a TIA may have weakness on one side of the body, loss of vision, tingling and numbness, and/or problems talking and walking. It may last for a few minutes or several hours. Although many people are unaware they’ve experienced a TIA, it usually is a precursor to a major stroke.
- A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures and blood goes into the brain.
Warning Signs of a Stroke
A majority of stroke victims are unaware they are experiencing a stroke and don’t seek emergency help until more than 24 hours after the onset of symptoms. Seeking emergency help immediately is crucial, the longer the delay, the more damage a stroke can do and the less recovery can be achieved.
Call 911 immediately, even if these warning signs go away:
- sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
- sudden confusion, or trouble speaking or understanding speech
- sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
- sudden severe headache with no known cause
- blurred or double vision, drowsiness, and nausea or vomiting
Stroke Prevention Guidelines
- Lower blood pressure
Hypertension is the most important risk factor for a stroke and to reduce your chances of a stroke, it is essential to prevent or manage high blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure 5 points can reduce the risk of a stroke by 42%.
- Stop smoking
Smoking doubles your risk for stroke.
- Drink alcohol in moderation
Studies show 2 drinks a day can lower your risk of stroke by half, more than this can increase your risk by three times
- Lower cholesterol
High cholesterol increases your risk of a stroke, low cholesterol reduces your risk.
- Physical activity
Include physical activity in your daily routine, as little as 30 minutes a day may reduce your risk for stroke.
- Low salt, low fat diet
By reducing sodium and fat in your diet, you may be able to lower your blood pressure and lower your risk for stroke.
- Control diabetes, if diabetic
Diabetes puts you at an increased risk for stroke; by controlling your diabetes, you may lower your risk.
- Find out if you have atrial fibrillation (AF)
AF is an irregular heart beat that allows blood to collect in the heart chambers which can be released in the form of blood clots into your blood stream, causing a stroke.
- Circulation problems
Fatty deposits, caused by atherosclerosis or other diseases, can block the arteries which carry blood from your heart to your brain. If left untreated, can cause stroke.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the #1 cause of death in the U.S. and kills more than 700,000 people each year.
Heart Attack Warning Signs
- Chest discomfort
Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body
Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath
This feeling often comes along with chest discomfort. But it can occur before the chest discomfort.
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
Heart Attack Risk Factors
Some risk factors can be changed or treated, some cannot. The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk of heart attack or stroke. Controlling as many of these risk factors as possible is the best way to keep your heart healthy.
- Increasing age
About 85 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are age 65 or older.
- Male gender
Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women, and they have attacks earlier in life. Even after menopause, when women’s death rate from heart disease increases, it’s not as great as men’s.
- Heredity (including race)
A family history of coronary heart disease in parents, siblings or offspring is a major risk factor. African Americans have more severe high blood pressure than whites. Consequently, their risk of heart disease is greater.
Smokers’ risk of heart attack is 2-4 times more than that of nonsmokers. Studies show that chronic exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke) may increase the risk of heart disease.
- High cholesterol
The risk of coronary heart disease and stroke rises as blood cholesterol levels increase. When other risk factors (such as high blood pressure and tobacco smoke) are present, this risk increases even more. A person’s cholesterol level is also affected by age, gender, heredity and diet.
- High blood pressure
High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload, causing the heart to enlarge and weaken over time. It also increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and congestive heart failure. When high blood pressure exists with obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels or diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases several times.
- Physical inactivity
Lack of physical activity is a risk factor for coronary heart disease.
- Obesity and overweight
People with excess body fat are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke, as excess weight increases the strain on the heart.
Diabetes increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Even when controlled, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Seventy-five percent of diabetics die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease.
Some studies show a relationship between coronary heart disease risk and stress.
Reducing Your Chances of a Heart Attack
- Lower cholesterol
- Stop smoking
- Lower blood pressure
- Physical activity
Moderate to vigorous exercise 30 minutes a day plays a significant role in preventing heart and blood vessel disease
- Recognize and treat diabetes
- Maintain a healthy weight
Losing as little as 10-20 pounds can lower your heart disease risk
- Eat healthy foods
Particularly those low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium
- Limit alcohol consumption
Researches have determined that good blood pressure control is at least as important as blood glucose control in diabetes. Salt sensitivity and high blood pressure are frequently found in people with Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.
Many people who are obese or have Type 2 diabetes (noninsulin-dependent), hypertension, lipid disorders and heart disease often have an underlying abnormality which causes one or more of these diseases to develop. It is called insulin resistance or Syndrome X and affects 70 to 80 million Americans.
In an attempt to regulate blood sugar levels, the body secretes insulin from the pancreas, but as the body becomes less sensitive to the insulin, more insulin is released until the pancreas eventually fails to sustain this increase. Type 2 diabetes is the condition most obviously linked to insulin resistance.
One half of patients with essential hypertension are insulin resistant, but just exactly how insulin resistance influences blood pressure is controversial.
People with insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes often have decreased HDL (the good) cholesterol levels and increased LDL (the bad) levels.
Obesity promotes insulin resistance and can be improved with weight loss, resulting is less sensitivity and lower insulin levels. The degree of insulin resistance is also related to where the body carries the weight. Abdominal obesity is most commonly found in Syndrome X individuals.
- American Diabetes Association [www.diabetes.org]
- Diabetes Public Health Resource [www.cdc.gov] — National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
- National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse [diabetes.niddk.nih.gov] — a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Two of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease are high blood pressure (hypertension) and high blood cholesterol. Nine out of ten Americans will develop high blood pressure during their lifetime, and nearly 70% of people with hypertension do not have it under control.
“High blood pressure is a time bomb in your blood vessels, just waiting to explode in a stroke or heart attack,” says Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition specialist at Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. “It just keeps ticking away, speeding the artery-clogging process until the blood vessels finally burst.”
What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force that circulates blood through our body and is generated by the pumping action of the heart and is regulated by a complex interaction of nerve signals and chemicals from the kidneys and several glands in our bodies.
Our blood pressure is constantly changing – increasing with exercise, excitement and stress; decreasing with rest and relaxation. When blood pressure increases, the small blood vessels that branch off from the arteries become constricted, making it more difficult for blood to pass through them (just like a kinked garden hose, the water flow is decreased) and causes the pressure against the artery walls to increase. This causes the heart to pump harder and over time the effects can be extremely harmful.
Blood pressure is measured by two numbers, one displayed over the other. The top number (systolic) measures the pressure during the heartbeat (or when the heart contracts and pumps blood through the body). The bottom number (diastolic) measures the pressure between heartbeats (or when the heart is resting).
Blood Pressure Classifications
and < 80
120 – 139
or 80 – 89
Stage 1 Hypertension
140 – 159
or 90 -99
Stage 2 Hypertension
or > 100
Effects of Hypertension
Hypertension tends to speed up the process of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosisis is the build up of plaque – fatty deposits, cholesterol and other substances – on the walls of the arteries and occurs gradually in all people.
As the arteries harden or narrow, the blood supply to the organs is decreased. When plaque ruptures, the debris, or clot, moves through the arteries and may lodge against other plaque build up, further interfering with blood flow. The clot may also block an artery, posing added danger if it breaks off and travels to the heart, lungs, or brain.
High blood pressure is a leading cause of strokes, heart disease, congestive heart failure and kidney disease. Research suggests it may also be a factor in some cases of blindness and Alzheimer’s.
Hypertension has no noticeable symptoms and can develop over many years as it silently and painlessly damages tissues and blood vessels. Once warning signs occur, the disease is usually severely advanced:
- Nose bleeds Headaches
- Buzzing in the ears Dizziness
- Anxiety Excessive perspiration
- Nausea, vomiting
- Loss of vision
- Chest pain
- Muscle tremors
- Racing or irregular heartbeats
NOTE: Even if you do not have any symptoms, you still may have hypertension.
What Can Raise Blood Pressure?
There are two types of hypertension, essential and secondary. Less common is secondary hypertension (5-10% of all cases) and is caused by a pre-existing condition such as a thyroid condition or kidney disease. The vast majority (90-95%) of people with high blood pressure have essential hypertension which has a number of factors associated with its development:
- Generic Factors – a family history of hypertension puts a person at greater risk for developing it
- Gender and Age – Males between 35-50, post-menopausal women and people over 70 have a greater risk of high blood pressure
- Race – African Americans are more likely to develop hypertension
- Lifestyle – overweight, sedentary lifestyle, smoking and stress (causes the walls of the arteries to constrict which raises blood pressure)
- Diet –too much salt or fat (salt promotes water retention which makes your heart work harder; fat is linked to plaque buildup in the arteries which can raise blood pressure); excess alcohol (more than 1 glass of wine or 24 oz of beer); softened water (households treated with softened water have salt added to the water); white sugar (can increase sodium retention and stimulate adrenaline production which can cause blood vessel constriction – sugars and simple carbohydrates that convert to sugar in the body may cause high insulin levels, long-term consumption can lead to a rise in blood pressure); caffeine (may temporarily increase blood pressure)
- Medical Conditions – Diabetes, Kidney Disease, Sleep Apnea, Pregnancy, Cirrhosis, Cushing’s Disease, Thyroid Disease
- Medications – Cold and cough remedies (decongestants such as, pseudoephedrine, phenylpropanolamine, dextromethorphan); appetite suppressants with diethylpopion; medications that contain ibuporfen (such as Advil and Nuprin) and antacids (like Rolaids, Alka-Seltzer and Bromo-Seltzer) that contain sodium; contraceptive pills (occurs in some women)
Even small reductions in blood pressure can have vast effects, significantly reducing your risk of stroke and heart disease. The American Heart Association estimates that a reduction in diastolic pressure (bottom number) of just 2 points could lower a person’s stroke risk by as much as 15 percent and lower heart disease risk by 6 percent.
- Lose weight if overweight
- Exercise regularly
- Eat healthy – follow a low-fat, low-salt diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (see DASH Diet)
- Manage stress
- Limit alcohol intake
- Stop smoking
- Take medications if prescribed
- Check your blood pressure regularly – most pharmacies have a free blood pressure monitoring devices or you can purchase an inexpensive cuff to use at home
Research has shown that potassium also lowers blood pressure. Good sources of potassium (in mg) include (1 cup unless noted otherwise):
- Raisins 1089
- Potato, baked w/skin, med 1081
- Lima beans 955
- Tomatoes, canned w/ sauce 909
- Winter squash 896
- Spinach, cooked 839
- Prunes, dried 828
- Prune juice 707
- Bananas 594
- Yogurt, plain, skim milk 579
- Beets, cooked 519
- Brussels sprouts, cooked 504
- Orange juice 496
- Cantaloupe 494
- Melons, honeydew 461
- Apricots, dried 407
- Milk, fat free/skim 407
More than 20 million Americans have impaired kidney (renal) function and 3 million have kidney disease. High blood pressure and diabetes are the two most common causes of kidney disease. Mild forms of high blood pressure can damage kidneys over several years. Severe hypertension causes kidney malfunction over a relatively short period of time.
African Americans have a six-fold higher incidence than whites of kidney failure related to high blood pressure. Not only do they develop hypertension earlier, but it tends to be more severe, consequently Blacks have more strokes, heart failure and kidney failure than non-African Americans.
How the Kidneys Work
After food is consumed and digested, the body takes what it needs for energy and self-repair, the waste that is left over is sent to your blood. Then the kidneys remove the waste and extra fluid from the blood (about 2 quarts each day) and sends it to the bladder where it is stored as urine. In addition to removing harmful wastes, the kidneys also release hormones that make red blood cells, regulate blood pressure and help maintain the chemical balance of the body.
A high salt intake can increase the amount of calcium in your urine, which can cause stone formation. Also, medications with thiazide will be less effective too much salt is consumed.
If you have kidney stones, you may need to follow a special diet that is low in salt, calcium, oxalate, or protein and is determined by why you form stones. In some cases, a special diet may be enough to prevent the formation of more kidney stones. In other cases, medications or a combination of a special diet and medications will be necessary.
- National Kidney Foundation [www.kidney.org]
- Medlineplus [www.nlm.nih.gov] — a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health
- National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse [kidney.niddk.nih.gov] — a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
What is Meniere’s Disease?
Ménière’s Disease is a disorder of the inner ear which causes severe dizziness (vertigo), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), a feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear, and hearing loss that comes and goes. It was named after Prosper Ménière, a French physician who first described the syndrome in 1861.
Ménière’s Disease can happen suddenly and occur frequently or less often, like once a year. Symptoms may include a combination of the following and occur with varying intensity and duration.
- Vertigo or severe dizziness, often followed with nausea, vomiting, and sweating
- Feeling of pressure or fullness in affected ear
- Ringing in the ears
- Loss of hearing
- Feeling unsteady for prolonged periods
- Abdominal discomfort
Controlling Meniere’s Disease with Diet
Dietary changes to reduce fluid retention in the body can often help reduce the symptoms of Ménière’s Disease. Suggested changes include going on a low-salt diet, eliminating caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.
Salt is very important in helping your body maintain a proper fluid balance. Too much salt, however, can cause water retention, resulting in swelling of the hands, feet, and sometimes abdomen. Some women are more salt-sensitive before their periods and are more likely to gain weight and have swelling and bloating during this time. Increasing water intake and decreasing salt may help the problem.
According to a study from England, the amount of calcium lost as a result of eating a high-sodium diet can be up to 900mg a day. It is thought that this loss of calcium weakens the bones. Although still controversial, research continues as to the relationship between salt intake and osteoporosis.
Eating high levels of salt may cause the stomach lining to waste away. This condition, known as atrophic gastritis, can lead to stomach cancer. Additionally, researchers at the National Cancer Centre Research Institute in Japan, suggest excessive daily consumption of sodium may double the risk of stomach cancer.
Gastric or stomach cancer is the second most frequent cause of cancer deaths worldwide – with an estimated 776,000 deaths in 1996.
According to research at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, people with exercise-induced asthma had better post-workout lung function when they ate a low-salt diet (1,500 milligrams of sodium daily).