Apr
8

BUSTING FOOD MYTHS, PART 3: SALT & HYPERTENSION

MYTH: Salt Causes Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

myth-bustedWe ended our previous blog on salt (BUSTING FOOD MYTHS, PART 2: SALT) by promising we’d address the relationships between salt and high blood pressure and healthy pH.

A review of scientific articles on the use of salt challenges the established wisdom that claims:

  • Excess salt is bad for you, and
  • Moderate use of refined sodium (table salt) with added iodine is good for you.

However, other studies also support the established wisdom.

So what are we to think?

Hypertension Studies Overview

The studies showing that high blood pressure and heart attacks are linked to excess dietary salt go back at least as far as 1904 in France when some French doctors reported that six of their patients with high blood pressure were “salt fiends.”

Other studies in the 1970s were somewhat more scientific than that, and supported the earlier claim by demonstrating that rats ingesting the equivalent of 500 grams of sodium a day (typical human ingestion is around 3.5 grams a day) experienced high blood pressure.

The concern about the link between salt intake and hypertension (high blood pressure) was entrenched in our minds and hearts.

However, today, it is not difficult to find other scientific studies that conclude that salt is not a fiendish nutrient when taken in excessive amounts (that is, more than the daily recommended amount) except for those with proven sensitivities to it or with kidney problems. As well, some studies show that too little sodium is more of a problem than too much:

  • Scientific American (July 8 2011) in its summary of recent studies says it’s time to end the war on salt because large studies over decades of time have failed to show a causal link–—except for people who have kidney problems or unusual sensitivities to salt intake. The bottom line here is that there is no solid evidence that salt raises blood pressure.
  • The American National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’s study of 6,250 subjects (Am J Hypertension 2005;18(2):261) determined that higher sodium diets are not associated with elevated blood pressure, but that low mineral levels in general were associated with high blood pressure.
  • More than that, the Survey found an inverse correlation between dietary sodium levels and blood pressure; that is, they found that the lower the sodium intake, the higher the blood pressure.
  • Dr. Brownstein points out that the coastal population of Japan “…is estimated to have a salt intake double the average of the US population, yet..a longer life-span and less chronic illness….”
  • A review of 57 hypertensive trials found almost no change in individuals with normal blood pressure who ate a low-salt diet, while such diets have also been found to increase the risk of heart attacks by 400%  (Cochrane Database 2004.1, Alderman. Hypertension 1995;25(6)) .

Does Salt Affect PH?

A healthy body registers a pH of about 7.2–7.4; an unhealthy body has a pH lower or higher than that range, with lower pH (acidic) being the most common health issue.

There are three things you need to know about the effect of pH on your body:

  • Most people tend to eat too many refined foods, most of which promote an acidic environment (lowering the pH) and, hence,  making them prone to various life-threatening diseases, including cancer
  • Minerals are one of the most alkalinizing agents for the body, helping protect us from cancerous cell growth
  • Refined salt contains no minerals

Here, then, is the bottom line: Help ensure your body remains in the alkaline range of pH by switching from refined foods in general and refined salt specifically.

Conclusion

So, again, what are we to think? If people like Lawrence Appel, chair of the salt committee for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans finds it “…tough to nail [salt/hypertension/ph] associations, perhaps the best we can do is appreciate that the fears we tend to hold onto about salt are not based on proven fact.

According to Appel, it seems the US government is not interested in large, controlled clinical trials at this time because of the expense involved, so the average person (and all the scientists and government officials) are left to make decisions for themselves, decisions which appear to be based on incomplete data and rhetoric.

In our opinion, then, the best you can do is:

  • Switch from refined salt to unrefined salt for all the reasons we explored in our previous blog on salt,
  • Be moderate in your use of salt, and
  • Reduce  significantly your dependance on refined foods.

And you might consider writing to your government officials to take on long-term studies to reduce our fear of salt and replace it with substantiated knowledge so we can all better take charge of our own health.

To your good health,

Gloria and Jerre

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