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Salt: Don't Ban It Entirely

Salt is bad for blood pressure but good for brain development, researchers say.
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Salt and Your Blood Pressure

The link between sodium and blood pressure has been rocky in recent years. Two decades ago, the landmark study known as Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) showed that a low-sodium, low-fat diet -- high in calcium, fruits, and vegetables -- had a direct impact on lowering blood pressure.

But a study last year challenged that dictum. It indicated that high-sodium intake is a marker for a poor-quality diet. It wasn't the sodium that affected blood pressure, but the lack of other important vitamins and minerals. That study was funded by the salt industry.

David McCarron, MD, a longtime paid consultant for the salt industry, presented these findings at the American Heart Association's 57th annual high blood pressure research conference last year.

However, a new report from the DASH research group shows -- once again -- that cutting sodium improved blood pressure, especially as people hit their 40s and 50s.

"In general, people who are older benefit more from lowering their sodium. Around age 40, 50, we begin to see a real difference," says Daniel W. Jones, MD, a hypertension expert with the University of Mississippi, and spokesman for the American Heart Association.

Whether a person is salt-sensitive is at the heart of this issue. Everyone's response to sodium is different, Jones explains. Obese people and black people, seem to benefit more from sodium restriction than white people do, studies have shown.

But he says "that most people have some salt sensitivity," says Jones. "Some have more than others." Problem is, there is no easy test for determining salt sensitivity, he explains.

His personal philosophy: "Everyone hopes to become old, and as we get older, we become sensitive to salt. It makes sense to start early enough to affect your health. I think the direct health benefits from restricting sodium -- like the DASH study -- does call for restricting sodium," says Jones.

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