The CDC has asserted for decades reducing salt is the number one behavior to lower blood pressure. After nearly forty years of intense effort to get Americans to lower salt intake, the evidence shows that just isn’t happening. A new Harvard study finds salt intake is about the same today as it was nearly 50 years ago, an amount well above recommended guidelines, noted Dr. Adam M. Bernstein, the study’s lead author. Decade after decade people have consistently consumed about 3,700 milligrams of sodium a day. Is it reasonable for a person to extrapolate from this data that if salt intake has remained unchanged, the percentage of those with hypertension disease should have remained unchanged? I think so. Yet one out of every three people now have high blood pressure, well above the percentage from the 1960’s.
The notion that hypertension is caused by a high-salt diet is more than a hundred years old, but much of its historic research is punctuated by controversy and criticized as shaky science. Salt worries escalated in the 1970s when Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Lewis Dahl claimed that he had “unequivocal” evidence that salt causes hypertension. Dahl began a breeding program in which rats were fed highly salted food to generate high blood pressure by feeding them the human equivalent of 500 grams of sodium a day. That is near 50 times what an average adult eats in a day. His study was discredited by many of his peers. Nevertheless, in 1977 the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs released a report recommending that Americans cut their salt intake by 50 to 85 percent, based largely on Dahl’s work.
The humorous contradiction was at the same time they recommended reducing salt, every authority sat back as the visionary corporate food giants got rich as they created a processed filler consisting of chemicals, sugar, corn syrup, additives and a very large amount of salt. In addition they allowed them to market it as food. Today known as processed food. In the 1950’s salt shaking was part of the dinner table ritual but processed food was not. To a great extent the 3700 mg of salt consumed daily shifted from accentuating real food to a fundamental part of processed food devoid of most nutrients.
Sodium is found intra and extracellular though out the body. As with so many substances, balance is key to proper function. Sodium is particularly fussy about balance. It is commanding electrolyte (ions such that substance is an electrical charge). Too much sodium is much more common than salt deficiency and will cause systemic damage to all of our organs, including heart. But rather than drastic salt policies from our government, would not an understanding of the basic role of salt balance be more useful to the mission of salt reduction?
Sodium carries an electrical charge that allows muscles to contract and nerve impulses to conduct. It helps regulate the fluid balance of the body (homeostasis). Potassium and sodium together maintain our pH balance and buffers our blood with a balance of all the positive of negative ions present. With too little sodium outside our cells, water will enter inside the cell, seeking sodium. (where sodium is, water follows) This in turn causes swelling of the cell and symptoms of nausea diarrhea, confusion, poor carbohydrate metabolism and muscle twitching.
Studies have shown reducing salt intake among a defined population has done little to reduce hypertension. Some research has suggested that humans may need a set amount of salt and we are hard wired to seek it.. Some studies have indicated a salt sensitivity within a population, suggested a genetic link to hypertension. I remember reading in my text books that the imbalance of potassium to salt may be a more important regulator of blood pressure than salt alone. Other possible causes for high blood pressure are obesity, stress, lack of Vitamin D, addition of corn syrup, over the counter pain relievers, prescription drugs, chemicals, pseudo-ephedrine in allergy medication, illegal drug use (certainly cocaine) and smoking.
Almost all foods contain some salt. Natural and organic food have little salt content. Current sodium guidelines advise up to 2,400 mg a day. (a little over a teaspoon of salt). That seems like plenty to me. Most days it is very easy to eat well below that amount. I very rarely eat processed food. But I do add salt to some foods. I mean really what would a hard boiled egg or a tomato sandwich be without salt and pepper. And of course I add pinch of salt to all my homemade baking.
Maybe it is time for protest signs — “Halt Salt Bashing” “End War on Salt”. I have always liked protest signs.