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By Karen Alexander, Oncology Wellness Specialist


How much salt is too much for people with high blood pressure?

About 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure – that’s about 75 million people! And only about half of that group have their high blood pressure under control. If you, like millions of Americans, have been told to reduce your sodium (salt) intake to help manage your blood pressure but don’t know where to start, this bulletin is right for you.

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure should be treated first with lifestyle changes and then with medication in some patients. The different levels of blood pressure are:

  • Normal: Less than 120/80
  • Elevated: Systolic pressure between 120-129 and diastolic pressure less than 80
  • Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
  • Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90
  • Hypertensive Crisis: Systolic pressure over 180 and/or diastolic pressure over 120. Patients need prompt changes in medication if there are no other indications of problems, or immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage.

What is sodium’s role in high blood pressure?
Sodium plays an important role in your body’s fluid balance and normal nerve and muscle function. However, too much sodium can be harmful to your health – especially for people with high blood pressure. High intake of sodium pulls water into your blood vessels, which increases your blood pressure. Normally, your body excretes the extra sodium through urine, bringing your blood pressure back to a normal range. But this becomes difficult to manage if you continuously eat a high-sodium die, especially if you have hardening of arteries and kidney problems.

Chronic high blood pressure can affect many different organs and tissues, and increases your risk for cardiovascular diseases and strokes. Although water pills and other blood pressure medicines can be used, dietary changes may increase the efficacy of these medicines.

Some medications used to reduce blood pressure did not have high efficacy in people with high sodium consumption, which could lead to even more prescriptions to keep blood pressure under control. Ironically, a side effect of some of those drugs include taste changes, which may lead people to want to use more salt to improve their food’s flavor. For these reasons, reducing the amount of sodium in your diet is the first step to reverse high blood pressure.

How can you reduce your sodium intake?
Most foods contain naturally occurring sodium, but the main source of sodium in our diet is added sodium. Sodium is commonly used in the food industry to preserve food and enhance taste (which in turn increases sales).

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg a day, and ideally less than 1,500 mg per day for most adults, especially those with high blood pressure. Keep in mind all the different food sources of sodium and always read nutrition labels to track your consumption of added salt. Remember, just one teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium!

Reading labels can be tricky. Use this chart to understand the nutrient claims on food and beverage packages:

Stay tuned for next week’s Wellness Bulletin, where I will give you helpful tips and tricks to manage your sodium intake.


I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Karen Alexander

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