Does high sodium cause high blood pressure? I keep hearing and reading conflicting things about this. – Trent
I’m not surprised that the association is unclear. One of the first things people with high blood pressure are told to do is avoid sodium. Wise for your health, but not especially necessary as a treatment.
High sodium in and of itself does NOT cause hypertension, the condition of consistently high blood pressure. Only 10% of the population is sodium sensitive. A high sodium load does cause the body to retain water in an effort to dilute it in blood. Normally, the vessels are flexible and expand to allow the higher blood volume. In hypertension, they are stiff and rigid or narrow. Greater volume + inflexible space = higher pressure. Think of freezing water in a balloon that stretches versus a hard acrylic cup. When the water expands upon freezing, the balloon gives but the cup cannot.
Often a person with high blood pressure can tolerate a consistent level of sodium in the diet rather than an acute spike. If there is a favorite food, generally it can be worked into the diet. When a very low sodium is followed, a single binge can exacerbate blood pressure. So eating a few pickle slices everyday probably won’t present a problem compared to consuming a half-jar in one day.
The pressing question is really “Why do arteries harden?” Inflammation is a key factor. Another is narrowing of the vessels because of plaque build-up, associated with hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol). Not surprisingly, diets full of junk food, fast food and packaged meals contain more inflammatory compounds (and sodium) while diets high in fresh, wholesome and plant foods contain more anti-inflammatory nutrients. Produce also contains a significant amount of potassium, a mineral that’s involved in proper fluid balance.
So it’s a win-win to avoid processed food. Overall, a lower sodium diet is a wise choice for anyone who wants to preserve or improve their cardiovascular health.
– Debbie J., MS, RD
This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your primary care physician.
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