The Salt/Blood Pressure Debate

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In response to last week’s canned soup post, reader Dave offered this comment: “I’d just like to point out that just as many Apple readers believe in literature that debunks the lipid hypothesis, there’s a camp that says there is minimal effect on blood pressure from salt. There are two sides to many stories!”

We couldn’t agree more that nutritional (or general health) debates are rarely so simple as they’re made out to be. As long-time readers have probably noticed, we’ll mention salt recommendations now and then and generally try to keep our recipe suggestions fairly low in salt. We do tend to follow general salt recommendations. Blood pressure issue aside, high salt intake (as we mentioned last week) has been associated with osteoporosis, asthma, kidney disease and stomach cancer.

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But what about the salt and blood pressure issue? Does it really hold water (pun intended)? We’d say it has enough bearing to figure into our choices, and for some people, research suggests, it’s crucially significant.

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For years, scientists have researched the possibility of a “salt sensitive hypertension” that was the general result of a person’s genetic profile. In other words, salt sensitive peoples’ blood pressure is impacted more than the average person’s. To be precise, their blood pressure rises 10% or more in response to a salty meal.

In 2006, researchers at the University of Virginia Health Center announced that they had traced the “sensitive” salt response to particular gene variations and that they were in the process of completing a genetic test for the salt sensitive profile. Salt sensitivity, researchers say, whether it accompanies chronic high blood pressure, negatively impacts the vascular system in the same way high blood pressure itself does. African-Americans are more likely to be salt-sensitive than people of other races in the U.S. The test, once it becomes readily available, will hopefully be a useful tool for people who want to learn more about steps essential for their individual health.

But as for the rest of us, does salt matter for blood pressure? It’s true that many studies in this area, as in all areas, have their failings. And, it’s true that salt is just one piece (albeit an important one) involved in the process of fluid retention and its link to higher blood pressure.

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