September 1, 2010

How to use salt to lower
your blood pressure

You've probably heard that a diet high in salt can raise your blood pressure. But what if you could use salt to actually lower your blood pressure? It's possible! At least that's what a new study out of China says.

Researchers conducted a rather good study (randomized and controlled) on 600 patients at high vascular risk. The average age of the participants was 58.4 years. They randomly assigned the participants to eat regular salt (199% sodium chloride) in their diet or a "salt substitute." The salt substitute contained 25% potassium chloride, 10% magnesium sulfate and 65% sodium chloride. In other words, it had a more balanced mineral content.

After 12 months, the salt substitute group had an average 7.4 mm HG decrease in peripheral systolic pressure and a 6.9 mm HG decrease in central systolic pressure. The salt substitute group also had pressure wave readings that indicated their arteries became less stiff.

Sometimes I can't figure out the so-called logic of the pundits. They'll scream time and time again to stop eating salt. Well, here we see as plain as day that the issue is not so much "salt," as in sodium, but a lack of essential non-sodium minerals.

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Potassium and magnesium are critical for cellular energy production and muscle relaxation. If you're deficient in either of them, it can abnormally increase the tone of the smooth muscles lining your arteries. This leads to arterial stiffness and higher pressure. They also reduce over activity of your sympathetic (flight or fight response) nervous system, and boost the function of your parasympathetic nervous system. Both of these activities relax your heart and blood vessels.

While the balance of nutrients in the salt substitute is good, there's an even better answer — either Celtic Sea Salt or Himalayan Salt. The former is from sun-evaporated seawater. The latter comes from dried seabeds in the Himalayas. Celtic salt is grey and Himalayan salt is pink, likely from its higher cobalt content.

Seawater has a nearly identical proportion of minerals as your body. That means, in addition to the perfect balance of sodium, potassium and magnesium, seawater is a great source of trace minerals as well. It's no wonder that in ancient days people knew the value of seawater. In fact, employers often paid their laborers in sea salt. Our word "salary" comes from the word "salt."

Both Himalayan salt and Celtic salt are widely available online and in health food stores. An excellent book on the subject is Salt Your Way to Health, written by my friend and colleague, David Brownstein, MD. It's quite possible these salts will lower your blood pressure and soften your blood vessels, contrary to the pundits' claims about sodium!

There is a minority of people clearly sensitive to any additional sodium. But that's easy to spot. If you're sensitive, your blood pressure spikes or you might take on extra fluid. If you are otherwise in good shape, Celtic or Himalayan salt might be a nice addition to your food for taste.

Ref: "Effects of salt substitute on pulse wave analysis among individuals at high cardiovascular risk in rural China: a randomized controlled trial," Hu J, Wu Y, et al, Hypertens Res, 2009 Feb 27; [Epub ahead of print].

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