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January 11, 2013 by DAVE MIHALOVIC
Low Salt Diets Do Not Decrease Blood Pressure, Period


This myth has to end. Those of us in the natural health industry continue to be shocked at the amount of people who still believe the unsubstantiated opinions of so-called experts who demonize salt. Reducing salt is a long-standing recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which they say is as critical to long-term health as quitting cigarettes. Really? Let me explain why, just as many other recommendations that come out of the CDC, this one is misguided and misinformed at best.

Salt is the most common and readily available nonmetallic mineral in the world. So how could a mineral which we've bathed in and absorbed in all foods since our existence be so harmful for the human body? Two words. It isn't. Actually, the opposite is true. A low salt diet will actually increase your risk of death.

Romans were paid in salt, thus the word "salary." Salt was also worth its weight in gold to African and European explorers. This naturally occurring substance was so highly prized simply because living organisms cannot survive without it. An increased intake of 'good' potassium salts could contribute significantly to improving blood pressure at the population level.

But don't try and convince public health officials. They won't have any of that nonsense. To them, salt is evil. According to the CDC, salt will increase your blood pressure and your risk for a heart attack and stroke. The Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines still consider salt Public Enemy No. 1, coming before fats, sugars and alcohol.

Actually, if the government has their way, they would drive salt intake down even further to scarce levels. Some health watchdogs have proposed the incredibly ignorant plan to call for average consumption to be cut below 2g per day in just over a decade. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is actually now considering regulating salt as a dangerous substance!

The FDA is laying the groundwork for extensive restrictions on salt. This threatens your health and your access to foods traditionally prepared with salt, such as cheese and fermented vegetables.

Many Studies Show A Different Story

World renowned salt researcher Dr. Brownstein states that even in those individuals with high blood pressure, the lowering effect is quite modest at best when reducing salt. Many researchers imply that any effect on blood pressure is not a direct consequence of salt at but other minerals acting on the body. Still, Dr. Brownstein will tell you that he learned in medical school the traditional party line that salt = hypertension (high blood pressure). A myth of mammoth proportions.

A study by lead researcher Dr. Niels Graudal, of Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, adds to a growing body of research questioning the long-term benefits of a low-salt diet. A review of seven previous studies published in the journal the Cochrane Library found that a moderate reduction in salt intake did not reduce a person's risk of dying or having heart disease.

In a systematic review published by The Cochrane Library, British scientists found that cutting salt consumption did not translate into lower death or heart disease risk. "With governments setting ever lower targets for salt intake and food manufacturers working to remove it from their products, it's really important that we do some large research trials to get a full understanding of the benefits and risks of reducing salt intake," said Rod Taylor of Exeter University, who led the review.

WHY have we been told that salt is so deadly? It has what nutritionists like to call "biological plausibility." Eat more salt and your body retains water to maintain a stable concentration of sodium in your blood. This is why eating salty food tends to make us thirsty: we drink more; we retain water. The result can be a temporary increase in blood pressure, which will persist until our kidneys eliminate both salt and water.

The scientific question is whether this temporary phenomenon translates to chronic problems: if we eat too much salt for years, does it raise our blood pressure, cause hypertension, then strokes, and then kill us prematurely? The answer is no.

A paper published in the American Journal of Hypertension warns that once average daily consumption dips to below 6.25g, the risk of heart attacks and strokes starts to increase once more. Restricting salt consumption increases levels of cholesterol and triglycerides -- both of them harmful fats which cause heart disease -- and also leads to insulin resistance (the early stages of type-2 diabetes). Diets low in salt also increase the levels of fat and hormones in the blood that are known to increase the risk of heart disease.

The problem is not salt, it's the type of salt we use. It takes just half an hour for one meal high in table salt to significantly impair the arteries’ ability to pump blood around the body, alarming research has shown. Blood flow becomes temporarily more restricted between 30 minutes and an hour after the food has been consumed. "Most scientific studies use processed table salt as a source of sodium which the body has a hard time physiologically to process unlike its natural counterpart sea salt," said Dr. Jamil Najma who only recommends sea salt to his patients.

Junk Science And Assumptions Promote The Myth

In 1972, when the National Institutes of Health introduced the National High Blood Pressure Education Program to help prevent hypertension, no meaningful experiments had yet been done. The best evidence on the connection between salt and hypertension came from two pieces of research. One was the observation that populations that ate little salt had virtually no hypertension. But those populations didn’t eat a lot of things -- sugar, for instance -- and any one of those could have been the causal factor. The second was a strain of "salt-sensitive" rats that reliably developed hypertension on a high-salt diet. The catch was that "high salt" to these rats was 60 times more than what the average American consumes.

Brookhaven National Laboratory's Lewis Dahl claimed in the 1970s that he had "unequivocal" evidence that salt causes hypertension: he induced high blood pressure in rats by feeding them the human equivalent of 500 grams of sodium a day. (Today the average American consumes 3.4 grams of sodium, or 8.5 grams of salt, a day.)

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.

Although researchers quietly acknowledged that the data were "inconclusive and contradictory" or "inconsistent and contradictory" -- two quotes from the cardiologist Jeremiah Stamler, a leading proponent of the eat-less-salt campaign, in 1967 and 1981 -- publicly, the link between salt and blood pressure was upgraded from hypothesis to fact similar to how fluoride reduces tooth decay by consumption.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has spent enormous sums of money on studies to test the hypothesis, and those studies have singularly failed to make the evidence any more conclusive. Instead, the organizations advocating salt restriction today -- the USDA, the Institute of Medicine, the CDC and the NIH -- all essentially rely on the results from a 30-day trial of salt, the 2001 DASH-Sodium study. It suggested that eating significantly less salt would modestly lower blood pressure; it said nothing about whether this would reduce hypertension, prevent heart disease or lengthen life.

While influential, that trial was just one of many. When researchers have looked at all the relevant trials and tried to make sense of them, they’ve continued to support Dr. Stamler’s "inconsistent and contradictory" assessment.

Proponents of the eat-less-salt campaign tend to deal with this contradictory evidence by implying that anyone raising it is a shill for the food industry and doesn’t care about saving lives.

When several agencies, including the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, held a hearing last November to discuss how to go about getting Americans to eat less salt (as opposed to whether or not we should eat less salt), these proponents argued that the latest reports suggesting damage from lower-salt diets should simply be ignored. Lawrence Appel, an epidemiologist and a co-author of the DASH-Sodium trial, said "there is nothing really new." According to the cardiologist Graham MacGregor, who has been promoting low-salt diets since the 1980s, the studies were no more than "a minor irritation that causes us a bit of aggravation."

A study published in the May 4, 2011 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association included 3,681 middle-aged Europeans who did not have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease and followed them for an average of 7.9 years.

The investigators found that the less salt people ate, the more likely they were to die of heart disease -- 50 people in the lowest third of salt consumption (2.5 grams of sodium per day) died during the study as compared with 24 in the medium group (3.9 grams of sodium per day) and 10 in the highest salt consumption group (6.0 grams of sodium per day). And while those eating the most salt had, on average, a slight increase in systolic blood pressure -- a 1.71-millimeter increase in pressure for each 2.5-gram increase in sodium per day -- they were no more likely to develop hypertension.

Dr. Michael Alderman, a blood pressure researcher at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and editor of the American Journal of Hypertension, said medical literature on salt and health effects is inconsistent. His own study, with people who had high blood pressure, found that those who ate the least salt were most likely to die.

Lowering salt consumption, Dr. Alderman said, has consequences beyond blood pressure. It also, for example, increases insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

"Diet is a complicated business," he said. "There are going to be unintended consequences."

One problem with the salt debates, Dr. Alderman said, is that all the studies are inadequate. Either they are short-term intervention studies in which people are given huge amounts of salt and then deprived of salt to see effects on blood pressure or they are studies, like this one, that observe populations and ask if those who happen to consume less salt are healthier.

"Observational studies tell you what people will experience if they select a diet," Dr. Alderman said. "They do not tell you what will happen if you change peoples’ sodium intake."

With nearly everyone focused on the supposed benefits of salt restriction, little research was done to look at the potential dangers. But four years ago, Italian researchers began publishing the results from a series of clinical trials, all of which reported that, among patients with heart failure, reducing salt consumption increased the risk of death.

Those trials have been followed by a slew of studies suggesting that reducing sodium to anything like what government policy refers to as a "safe upper limit" is likely to do more harm than good. These covered some 100,000 people in more than 30 countries and showed that salt consumption is remarkably stable among populations over time. In the United States, for instance, it has remained constant for the last 50 years, despite 40 years of the eat-less-salt message. The average salt intake in these populations -- what could be called the normal salt intake -- was one and a half teaspoons a day, almost 50 percent above what federal agencies consider a safe upper limit for healthy Americans under 50, and more than double what the policy advises for those who aren’t so young or healthy. This consistency, between populations and over time, suggests that how much salt we eat is determined by physiological demands, not diet choices.

There's Good Salt and Bad Salt...Know The Difference!

Many experts argue that salt could be just what we need for healing, health and longevity. Modern salt, they agree, is unhealthy. But common table salt has almost nothing in common with traditional salt, say the salt connoisseurs. Just look at the rose-coloured crystals of Himalayan rock salt, or the grey texture of Celtic salt -- both pride themselves on traditional harvesting, avoiding heat treatment or refining methods -- and you know you're getting something special, not least that when you taste them, they actually have flavour. And unlike the sodium chloride you find on most kitchen tables, unrefined rock salt contains more than 84 different minerals.

"These mineral salts are identical to the elements of which our bodies have been built and were originally found in the primal ocean from where life originated," argues Dr Barbara Hendel, researcher and co-author of Water & Salt, The Essence of Life. "We have salty tears and salty perspiration. The chemical and mineral composition of our blood and body fluids are similar to sea water. From the beginning of life, as unborn babies, we are encased in a sack of salty fluid."

"In water, salt dissolves into mineral ions," explains Dr Hendel. "These conduct electrical nerve impulses that drive muscle movement and thought processes. Just the simple act of drinking a glass of water requires millions of instructions that come from mineral ions. They're also needed to balance PH levels in the body."

Mineral salts, she says, are healthy because they give your body the variety of mineral ions needed to balance its functions, remain healthy and heal. These healing properties have long been recognised in central Europe. At Wieliczka in Poland, a hospital has been carved in a salt mountain. Asthmatics and patients with lung disease and allergies find that breathing air in the saline underground chambers helps improve symptoms in 90 per cent of cases.

Dr Hendel believes too few minerals, rather than too much salt, may be to blame for health problems. It's a view that is echoed by other academics such as David McCarron, of Oregon Health Sciences University in the US.

He says salt has always been part of the human diet, but what has changed is the mineral content of our food. Instead of eating food high in minerals, such as nuts, fruit and vegetables, people are filling themselves up with "mineral empty" processed food and fizzy drinks.

Due to modern farming methods, fruit and vegetables are much lower in minerals than they once were. Meanwhile, table salt is stripped of all minerals save for sodium and chloride. These changes, he believes, are responsible for the current prevalence of high blood pressure.

"A lot of people say salt is bad, but bad salt is bad," says Amanda Nelson, founder of The Natural Salt Seller. "If you put a fish in table salt solution, it will die. Good salt, on the other hand, can be wondrous."

This attitude that studies that go against prevailing beliefs should be ignored on the basis that, well, they go against prevailing beliefs, has been the norm for the anti-salt campaign for decades. Maybe now the prevailing beliefs should be changed. The British scientist and educator Thomas Huxley, known as Darwin’s bulldog for his advocacy of evolution, may have put it best back in 1860. "My business," he wrote, "is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations."

Using Far More Effective Natural Foods To Reduce High Blood Pressure

There are in fact so many incredible foods that work to lower blood pressure far more effectively than reducing salt intake ever could.

Pea Protein
Pea protein available in many retail protein powders is associated with a 6 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure According to findings published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Tomato Extract
Researchers in Israel found that a daily dose of tomato extract helped lower blood pressure. On average, their systolic pressure --the top number in a blood-pressure reading --dropped 10 points, while their diastolic pressure, or bottom number, dipped four points, both statistically significant differences. And just two ounces of tomato paste or a pint of juice a day could be enough to help many patients.

Sesame Oil
The study presented at the Scientific Meeting of the Inter-American Society of Hypertension found using sesame oil as their sole cooking oil lowered their blood pressure levels from 166 mm Hg systolic to 134 mm Hg and from 101 mm Hg diastolic to 84.6 mm Hg.

Gazpacho
A research paper, published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, analysed the effect of gazpacho consumption on cardiovascular risk factors in nearly 4,000 people and found that regular consumption of cold gazpacho soup can help to battle high blood pressure and cut heart disease risk

Olive Leaf Extract
The leaves of the olive tree have been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times, and modern lab research shows that olive leaf extracts have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions and help lower blood pressure.

Cranberry Juice
The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry shows drinking cranberry juice can lower blood pressure. Oligomeric procyanidins, which prevent blood vessel constriction that leads to heart disease are found in cranberries which act as the primary constituent to reduce hypertension.

Dark Chocolate
University of Cologne researcher Dr. Dirk Taubert says the blood pressure reductions with dark chocolate are small but still substantial enough to potentially reduce cardiovascular disease risks.

Beetroot Juice
Drinking 500ml of beetroot juice a day can significantly reduce blood pressure. The key beneficial ingredient appears to be nitrate, which is also found in green, leafy vegetables. While it was more pronounced after three to four hours after consuming, a degree of reduction continued to be observed for up to 24 hours, the report published on the online journal Hypertension said.

Green Tea
A study reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that green tea is full of polyphenols, which widen blood vessels, speeding the supply of blood to the brain. It can help lower blood pressure by tackling an enzyme which triggers hypertension.

Hibiscus Tea
A 2008 USDA study showed consuming hibiscus tea lowers blood pressure in a group of prehypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults. Three cups of tea daily resulted in an average drop of 8.1 points in their systolic blood pressure, compared to a 1.3 point drop in the volunteers who drank the placebo beverage.

Foods Containing Vitamin C
A study released in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that taking vitamin C supplements in the short-term reduces both systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) all without any side effects making it an excellent natural alternative to dangerous medications. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and colleagues showed that taking as low as 500 mg per day of vitamin C for an average of eight weeks lowered SBP and DBP by 3.84 mm Hg and 1.48 mm Hg, respectively.

Sources:
westonaprice.org
nytimes.com
reuters.com
onlinelibrary.wiley.com
scientificamerican.com

Dave Mihalovic is a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in vaccine research, cancer prevention and a natural approach to treatment.

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