World Hypertension Day 2020: The truth about salt and hypertension
World Hypertension Day is observed on May 17 every year to help raise awareness about high blood pressure, how it can be prevented and managed. And while we may be preoccupied with a new health concern this year, we can’t ignore other health problems - especially ones that can creep up silently, like hypertension.
What is blood pressure?
The heart pumps blood which is circulated throughout the body via blood vessels. Blood pressure is the force or pressure with which the blood pushes against the walls or sides of the blood vessels as it flows through them. Normal blood pressure stands at about 120/80 mm Hg. When one has high blood pressure, it means that the force with which the blood is pumping in their body/blood vessels is very strong. This force puts a lot of pressure on the arteries and heart. If not managed, it can lead to a heart attack or a stroke and can even be fatal.
There are many changes you can make in your lifestyle that can help reduce the risk of hypertension. One of the biggest ones is to reduce your salt intake.
How does salt fit into the picture?
Most of our meals feel incomplete without salt. Not only does it add flavour to our food but it is also our main source of sodium, a mineral which is essential for our body to function. But over the years, people have started to use salt a lot more generously than required. As a result, more people are becoming prone to diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, and heart problems.
Technically, in a day, we should not consume more than 2-3 grams of salt. However, a lot of fast food and packaged foods use added salts. Though we can’t always see these salts, they add to our daily salt intake. This is not to say junk food should be cut out completely – just that moderation is essential.
Why does salt cause our arteries to narrow?
Salt is made of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. It is the chloride which is often the culprit behind hypertension. The relationship is directly proportional – higher the intake of salt, higher the blood pressure. The combination of sodium and chloride also upsets the delicate balance of compounds in the body.
Take the example of the blood vessels near the kidneys. Potassium and sodium are both used to pull extra water into the kidney through the process of osmosis. The water is then removed from the body in the form of urine. However, if the sodium content is higher in the body, the ability to absorb the water into the kidney becomes hampered. When this happens a lot of pressure is put on the blood vessels around the kidneys and causes blood pressure to spike.
Similarly, when the arteries leading up to the heart are narrowed, the amount of blood flowing through them is reduced. The arteries get strained to ensure adequate blood is reaching the heart. Therefore, blood pressure spikes. This initially makes you feel pains and then in more severe cases heart attacks happen.
What changes should you make?
For normotensive people (those who have normal blood pressure), a reduction in salt intake by two grams per day for 18 months can lead to a 35% reduction in the incidence of hypertension. For individuals who already have elevated blood pressure, a reduction of 4.6 g/d of salt can help reduce blood pressure by 5.06/2.70 mm Hg.
No one said you can’t enjoy your food. Just ensure that you track your salt intake (reduce it if required) and walk for at least 30 minutes every day. You will gradually begin to see positive changes in your body.
This article was written by Dr Rajeev Gupta, Director, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.
For more information, read our article on High Blood Pressure.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.
Updated Date: May 19, 2020 11:56:45 IST
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