The impact of dietary salt on blood pressure remains controversial and hotly debated. Some experts staunchly argue that salt significantly raises blood pressure for most people. They point to studies showing that populations with higher salt intake have higher rates of hypertension.
Other researchers take a more nuanced view, arguing that some subset of individuals is more biologically sensitive to salt than others. They argue that blanket recommendations to universally reduce salt fail to account for this variability.
Viewpoints Within the Scientific Community Differ:
– “The more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure will be, full stop. This is supported by a wealth of data,” asserts the advocacy group Blood Pressure UK.
– “In some genetically susceptible people, sodium can substantially increase blood pressure,” states the American Heart Association.
– “Individual responses vary greatly; one universal size doesn’t fit all,” says Robin Felder, Ph.D., a professor of pathology at the University of Virginia who studies salt sensitivity.
The truth remains murky and hotly debated. But don’t use the uncertainty as an excuse to indulge freely in pizza, salty snacks, and processed foods. Consuming excessive amounts of salt likely carries risks for most people. In addition, you can also read an article on- Best Foods that Lower your Blood Pressure
Salt’s Immediate Versus Long-Term Effects
It’s well established that eating a meal high in salt can cause a temporary spike in blood pressure. Salt causes the body to retain water, increasing the volume and pressure within blood vessels.
But experts debate whether this temporary rise extrapolates to lasting effects over months and years.
“In short-term studies, cutting back on salt reduces blood pressure a few points. But it’s challenging to know the long-term impact sustained high or low salt intake has on cardiovascular health,” explains J. Brian Byrd, M.D., a cardiologist and hypertension specialist at the University of Michigan.
In a 2022 randomized trial, Dr. Felder found that around 15% of subjects exhibited “inverse salt sensitivity” – their blood pressure declined on a high salt diet. But nearly 20% were salt-sensitive – high salt drove their blood pressure up.
The body’s adaptation over time muddies the picture. “Blood pressure doesn’t rise linearly with salt intake forever,” explains Dr. Felder. “After an initial spike, the kidneys adjust to excrete more salt.” Additionally, you can also read about- 15 Natural Ways to Reduce Your Blood Pressure
High Blood Pressure’s Health Risks
Regardless of the uncertainty, hypertension is a proven leading cause of cardiovascular death worldwide. It sharply increases risks of heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease. Nearly half of American adults, around 108 million people, have hypertension defined as readings above 130/80 mm Hg.
For individuals with high blood pressure, lowering salt intake is one of the first lifestyle interventions doctors recommend. “We advise limiting sodium because it can’t hurt, might help, and has been shown to work for some,” says Dr. Byrd.
Stealthy Sources of Salt
Salt’s hazards go beyond the obvious: the saltshaker on tables or sodium-rich foods like chips and cured meats. Surprisingly, bread and rolls are the #1 source of dietary sodium for Americans, followed by sandwiches with deli meat and cheese.
Many packaged frozen meals, soups, ravioli dishes, and even sweets contain staggering amounts of hidden sodium. Restaurant dishes and fast foods often deliver enormous salt loads well over the FDA’s recommended limit of 2,300 mg per day.
“Some marinades and injections used by restaurants or food manufacturers contain astronomically high salt levels,” warns Byrd. “You might never suspect it from the taste.” The average American consumes over 3,400 mg of sodium daily.
Your Sensitivities May Vary
For a subset of people, excess salt may not chronically raise blood pressure over the long-term due to individual metabolic differences. But there is no easy way to know if you aren’t salt-sensitive without rigorous clinical testing.
Given the risks associated with hypertension, limiting salt intake through a diet rich in natural whole foods and low in processed items is wise advice for nearly everyone. “Eating less salt certainly won’t hurt,” says Dr. Felder.