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Myth or Fact: Salt Increases Blood Pressure

Salt (or sodium) has gotten a bad reputation in America. Many people are filling their grocery carts with "low-sodium" products, or even attempting to eliminate salt from their diet entirely. While it is true that most Americans could stand to cut back on the salt; salt doesn't cause high blood pressure. More accurately high blood pressure causes damage to blood vessels which in turn makes the blood vessels unable to tolerate salt. This article discusses the facts about sodium and its relationship to blood pressure.

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Sodium as a Nutrient

Sodium is an essential mineral found in the human body. Sodium is necessary for the brain to be able to send signals to nerves and muscles throughout the body. Sodium is also necessary for the absorption of other nutrients. In order for your body to function properly, you need to maintain a delicate balance of sodium and potassium. You need to replace the sodium you lose throughout the day. For most people, the recommended amount is 1000 mg to 3000 mg of sodium per day. Your dietary needs might be more if you are an endurance athlete or if your body excretes a large amount of sodium. Everyone is a little bit different in the way that they metabolize sodium.

High Blood Pressure Factors

Put simply, blood pressure is a measurement of the amount of energy your heart has to expend in order to transport blood throughout your body. A healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80. The top number (systole) refers to the pressure against the artery walls when the heart contracts, and the bottom number (diastole) is the arterial pressure when the heart relaxes and fills with blood. The biggest risk factor for high blood pressure is not sodium. The biggest risk factors are family history and weight. If you have a family history of high blood pressure and heart disease, you will be more likely to have high blood pressure. Additionally if you are overweight you will be more likely to develop high blood pressure.

Sodium and High Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure, sodium can cause you to retain too much water. By retaining more water in your blood vessels, you are making your heart work harder, which causes an increase in pressure along the arterial walls. This is why people with high blood pressure are often prescribed diuretics, to eliminate excess sodium from the body to reduce the heart's work load.  

Preventing High Blood Pressure

While many people consume too much sodium, especially people who eat processed snack foods, the bottom line is that if you don't have high blood pressure, sodium is not going to cause you to have high blood pressure. If you eat too much sodium, cut back on the processed foods and talk to your doctor about how much sodium is healthy for you to be consuming. You can find naturally occurring sources of sodium without adding extra salt to your food. Sodium is found is most meats, cheeses, and nuts.

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