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Less Salt Is Often Still Too Much

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Jan. 3, 2001 -- Almost fifty million people in the U.S. suffer from high blood pressure, and most everyone knows that blood pressure is related to sodium, or salt intake. So what's the latest news in the fight against high blood pressure?

Cutting back on salt helps lower blood pressure regardless of age, sex, race, or dietary patterns, according to a new study. This beneficial result occurred in people who ate a standard U.S. diet or an especially healthy diet designed to reduce blood pressure.

"This study has shown conclusively that in both individuals with hypertension, and those without hypertension, lower dietary sodium levels lower blood pressure," William M. Vollmer, PhD, tells WebMD. Vollmer is co-author of the study and a senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore.

The study, published in the Jan. 4, 2000 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, looked at more than 400 people, 160 of whom had high blood pressure. For 14 weeks, all their food was provided by the researchers. Some ate a typical U.S. diet, while some ate what's called the DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet is high in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, and includes whole grains, poultry fish and nuts. It limits red meat, sweets, and fats, especially saturated fat.

People in both groups ate a low level of salt for 30 days, a medium level for 30 days, and a higher level for 30 days. What was found for all groups -- women and men, those who had high blood pressure and those who didn't -- was that the lower the salt intake, the lower the blood pressure, which ultimately means fewer heart attacks and strokes down the road.

"We used to think only about a third of people were salt-sensitive, but this study shows that's not the case," Susan West, MD, tells WebMD. "It is very well done, very convincing. Salt restriction is definitely worthwhile. I suggest that all my patients should watch their sodium intake." West, who was not involved in the study, is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

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