Does Salt Cause High Blood Pressure? Here’s What It Really Does to Your Body

Blood pressure is a dangerous health condition for a terrifying reason: Most people don’t know they have it. You can live with it unknowingly for years, causing undetectable damage to your organs in the process, because it usually doesn’t show any symptoms.

Knowing this, many search for simple ways to prevent the consequences — heart attacks, strokes, heart disease, and many other health problems. To lower your risk of something, you have to know what’s increasing it first.

High blood pressure has many possible causes — everything from eating certain foods to spending too much time on the couch. But salt intake is probably one of the most confusing risk factors.

Here’s how blood pressure gets out of control, why your diet matters, and what to eat to keep your numbers low.

What is the main cause of high blood pressure?

High blood pressure

High blood pressure | Ronstik/iStock/Getty Images

The hardest thing about treating high blood pressure is that there isn’t always just one cause. Some people are over 50, have a family history of high blood pressure, have stressful jobs, and don’t exercise. They’re at risk because multiple factors could be raising their blood pressure separately but simultaneously.

There are three major risk factors that make the average person more likely to develop high blood pressure without knowing it.

Stress. Research suggests that common behaviors linked to stress — such as drinking and overeating — often lead to high blood pressure. Managing stress also helps people avoid these behaviors, which can lower blood pressure in most individuals.

Your weight. Your blood pressure increases the more your weight does. This is why diet and exercise modifications are often the first things doctors recommend after a diagnosis. Losing weight can help lower your blood pressure with or without medication.

Your drinks of choice. Both alcohol and caffeine can negatively affect blood pressure. The exact relationship between caffeine and blood pressure is still unknown, but alcohol significantly increases your risk if you drink more than you should on a regular basis.

Foods high in salt are just one possible cause of high blood pressure. But there’s a reason most health advice focuses on what you are (and aren’t) eating.

Salt and hypertension: How sodium raises blood pressure

You’ve likely heard — or been told — that eating too much salt has a negative impact on your blood pressure. Is this true, or just a myth?

There are plenty of myths about high blood pressure, but sodium’s effects on your numbers isn’t one of them. Eating large quantities of salt on a daily basis actually does more harm to your kidneys in the beginning than it does to your heart.

Your kidneys are responsible for filtering toxins out of your blood and expelling them from your body. When there’s too much sodium in your blood, those organs pull it out and dump it into your urine.

But when this keeps happening day after day, your kidneys get tired; they can’t filter out all the sodium. It therefore stays in your blood, which puts extra pressure on your blood vessels. The harder your heart has to work to get blood from one place to another, the more likely it is that it will wear itself out, too.

This is why avoiding excess sodium — not cutting it out completely — can lower your blood pressure and keep your kidneys and heart healthy.

 

The best diet for high blood pressure still includes salt

Salt shaker

Salt shaker | mitchrice/iStock/Getty Images

Experts actually discourage even people with high blood pressure to limit their salt intake too much. Most recommendations advise not to consume fewer than 1,500 milligrams per day for health reasons. Your body needs some sodium to function. Without enough of it, you could slip into a coma — or worse.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan is considered the best diet to control and even prevent high blood pressure. Its main restrictions involve processed foods, which are most people’s main sources of added sodium.

The plan encourages individuals to eat a variety of whole grains, produce, and dairy products while limiting or avoiding the snack foods and desserts that dump excess salt into the blood.

Basically, if you eat both plants and animal proteins, and they make up most of your diet, your chances of developing high blood pressure — and suffering its consequences — are much lower.

Being told you need to eat less salt can feel like you’re being asked to change your whole life. And for you, that might be the case.

But most people don’t know they’re living with a condition like high blood pressure until they have a heart attack. Don’t wait until then to start making changes. If you really think about it, it’s just salt. You don’t need as much of it as you think.

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