New Info. About Sodium and Blood Pressure. Is There an Association?

Recent research conducted by Boston University’s School of Medicine has challenged the notion that blood pressure is negatively impacted by sodium intake. Previously, the idea has been that as you increase your intake of sodium, primarily from salt, blood pressure worsens and leads to increased risk for stroke and other complications. Lynn L. Moore and her team presented their research that goes against this idea.

Disclaimer: I was only able to read the abstract, as I could not find the whole study. I am not sure if it’s available publicly yet since it’s a novel study. With that in mind, some of what I say may be misinterpreted on my part simply because I didn’t have complete access to the paper. I will do my best to avoid this while still giving you good, useful information. Hang with me here!

So, what they found was very interesting. First off, subjects were classified into five groups of increasing sodium intake. Over the groups, the average systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels were quite similar¹, even as intake increased.

Next, potassium intake had an inverse relationship with blood pressure¹. Basically, as intake of potassium increased, blood pressure levels fell. No surprise there. In addition, associations for calcium and magnesium intake were noticed that were similar to potassium (inverse relationship)¹.

Lastly, and probably, the most significant finding, the researchers also had a group where they observed the combined effects of sodium and potassium. Those with the lowest intakes of both had the highest blood pressure and vice versa¹.

What does this mean? It means eat your frickin’ vegetables. Vegetables are LOADED with potassium, and people are certainly more likely to be deficient in potassium than sodium. It’s important to note that just because this study did not find an association between blood pressure and sodium intake does not mean you can go down all the soy sauce and salt you want. In many cases, high-sodium foods are those that are highly processed, containing a lot of calories and little nutrients (like potassium).

These findings suggest the same ol’ story: obtain most of your foods from whole sources (whole grains, fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, etc.) and save some room for your personal treats. This study also suggests that you can enjoy high sodium foods in conjunction with a high intake of potassium. As we saw, high intakes of both did not show an increased risk for high blood pressure. Load up your stir fry with vegetables!

Another important note is that this is simply one study on a topic that is controversial. As I said earlier, research has been published to support both sides of the argument. Learn how your body responds to sodium. Try increasing/decreasing your intake for a week or two and check your blood pressure again to see if improvements were made. Or, in the case of increasing it, if there was no change, you may be able to add in more. Keep in mind, if you increase your sodium, your potassium intake should be moving with it.

Athletes and Sodium Intake

This is an important distinction to make. If you’re an athlete, sodium is an essential nutrient that you should not be skipping out on. Sweating results in the loss of sodium. Some people are even known as ‘salty sweaters’ and eliminate a lot of sodium through sweat. If too low levels of sodium in the blood occur, this is known as hyponatremia. The Mayo Clinic notes that these conditions could occur if hyponatremia ensues:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Loss of energy and fatigue
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps
  • Seizures
  • Coma²

Obviously, none of these issues are good for an athlete. So takeaway for this portion of the post is to make sure, if you’re an athlete, that you’re replenishing yourself with not just water, but some type of source that contains sodium and the other electrolytes. This will ensure you’re fully hydrated and ready for whatever is next.

Takeaway Points

  • Enjoy your sodium, but make sure your potassium intake is near similar to your sodium intake (Vegetables and legumes [think beans] are an awesome, easy way to accomplish this)
  • Don’t go HAM on the sodium (lolz, get it?)
  • Learn how your body responds to sodium by playing around with your intake.
  • If you’re an athlete, don’t be afraid to have sodium for training. It’s essential for good workouts and performance.
  • Talk to your doctor about your blood pressure and learn ways of improving it if need be or simply to understand how to manage it better

Have any burning questions or feeling a little salty after reading this? Post your comments below! Thanks for reading!

References

¹http://www.fasebj.org/content/31/1_Supplement/446.6.abstract?sid=f67e9f3b-d62b-49a0-aebc-8393c1f7f4f1

²https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hyponatremia/basics/symptoms/con-20031445

 

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