Monday, February 27, 2006

Genes, salt, and hypertension

Researchers have demonstrated that looking for several variations of genes that control blood pressure can predict the risk for high blood pressure caused by high levels of salt. Once it is fully developed, this effective diagnostic test will be the first of its kind.

When a subject had three or more variations in these genes, the new genetic test correctly predicted risk for salt-induced high blood pressure in 94 percent of cases. (Health is adversely affected by high salt intake in up to half of Americans.) The more gene variants, the bigger the health problems.

"A genetic test for high blood pressure and/or salt sensitivity will be instrumental in motivating Americans to adopt heart healthy lifestyles and help to improve their overall health and quality of life," researchers said.

Studies now show that salt-sensitivity is harmful in the presence of a high-salt dietary regimen.

Serum markers of inflammation and endothelium-dependent vasodilation are altered in salt-sensitive hypertension. These alterations could help to explain the greater target organ damage and cardiovascular risk observed in salt-sensitive subjects.

What to do about salt-sensitivity, besides taking effective antihypertensive medication?

Follow the DASH plan. By following the DASH regimen you will be lowering your dietary sodium content. The first D.A.S.H. (Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension) study had even shown that you could lower blood pressure without altering sodium intake. It showed that by boosting other minerals, you will excrete more sodium in your urine. This is also evident in a recent study.

Of course, it's most effective to lower salt and eat the DASH way as shown in the second DASH study. In fact, it's the way our ancestors ate. Their sodium/potassium ratio was a healthy 1:4, the result of eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Our current ratio is reversed to an unhealthy 4:1, the result of too much salt (especially in processed foods) and too few fresh fruits and vegetables.

To be salt sensitive is to have your blood pressure increase more than 10 percent following a high-salt meal, though this is not a foolproof test.

Your doctor can help you ascertain your sensitivity level, but the wise call is for all of us salt users to take steps to shake the habit.


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