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Eat less salt to lower your blood pressure, no medications needed

A recent study led by Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), in collaboration with Northwestern Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has discovered that eating less salt can significantly lower blood pressure, even for individuals currently using blood pressure medications.

Dr. Deepak Gupta, M.D., MSCI is an associate professor of Medicine at VUMC and co-principal investigator of the study. He stated, “Participants, primarily in their middle age to older years, reduced their salt intake by approximately one teaspoon daily. This resulted in a decline in systolic blood pressure by about 6 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), a reduction similar to that offered by first-line high blood pressure medications.”

Dr. Norrina Allen, Ph.D., MPH, professor of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and co-principal investigator, further emphasized, “Approximately 70-75% of people, whether on blood pressure medication or not, can expect to see a reduction in blood pressure upon lowering their dietary sodium.”

“This study, one of the largest of its kind, uniquely includes individuals with hypertension already under medication,” Allen added. “Before this, it was unclear if sodium reduction could further lower blood pressure in this group.”

Sodium intake recommendations

According to Allen, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a daily sodium intake below 1,500 milligrams. This study aimed to reduce salt consumption even further to test the impact on blood pressure. “While challenging, any amount of sodium reduction is beneficial,” she remarked.

High blood pressure, a leading cause of morbidity and mortality globally, can lead to severe conditions like heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes. This is because it exerts extra pressure on the arteries and affects heart efficiency, Allen explained.

How the study was conducted

Participants, aged 50 to 70, from Birmingham, Alabama, and Chicago, were assigned to high-sodium (2,200 mg/day) or low-sodium (500 mg/day) diets for a week, then switched to the alternate diet. Blood pressure monitoring and urine collection were conducted before study visits.

Among 213 participants, those on the low-sodium diet showed a 7-8 mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure compared to the high-sodium diet, and a 6 mm Hg decrease from their usual diet.

Dr. Gupta emphasized, “The blood pressure-lowering effect of reduced dietary sodium {salt consumption} was consistent across all participants, regardless of their blood pressure status.”

Less salt intake lowers blood pressure fast

Allen and Gupta collectively highlighted the study’s reinforcement of dietary sodium reduction’s importance in controlling blood pressure, even for those on hypertension medications.

“The rapid and safe impact of sodium reduction on blood pressure, evident within a week, underscores its potential public health impact given the global prevalence of high blood pressure,” added Dr. Cora Lewis, MD, MSPH, co-investigator and professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“The low sodium diet’s components being widely available gives people a realistic opportunity to enhance their health through dietary changes,” concluded Lewis.

The full study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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