VIDEO: You may think you’re one of the lucky ones who can eat unlimited bags of chips and other troves of salt; and yet, it doesn’t affect your blood pressure. But according to research published in the American College of Cardiology, excess sodium can adversely affect other target organs even if you don’t have hypertension.
Studies show elevated sodium levels can cause the inner lining of blood vessels (called the endothelium) to “malfunction”. The following occurs as a result:
- Vessels stiffen. Arteries that become less elastic and lose their contractility (ability to fully contract and relax) make it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the body. Eventually, the heart wears out (heart failure).
- Vessels become sticky. Think of the lining of your blood vessels as being slick like Teflon. An unhealthy endothelium is sticky like Velcro and causes plaque to attach. Plaque builds up in the brain too — leading to Alzheimer’s.
- The body breeds dangerous inflammation. Inflammation may cause plaque inside blood vessels to crack, rupture, and dislodge from arterial walls. The body responds like with any other injury by causing blood to clot. Clots clog up vessel freeways and block blood flow to the heart (heart attack) or brain (stroke). Inflammation is also the key reason behind why heart attacks are more likely to occur after getting the flu.
NOTE: Eating too much sugar can have the same effect on the endothelium as an excessive intake of sodium.
Research found that elevated sodium levels may increase the wall thickness of the heart’s main pumping chamber (left ventricle). This thickening can lead to cardiac issues, such as:
- Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
- Heart attack
- Sudden cardiac arrest (sudden loss of heart function)
- Heart failure (inability of the heart to pump enough blood throughout the body)
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for this muscle tissue enlargement, but it was also found in healthy people with NORMAL blood pressure who consumed high amounts of sodium.
Healthy kidneys remove extra fluid and waste from the blood. Studies found that a high sodium intake can lead to decreased rates of filtration (a sign of chronic kidney disease). If left unchecked, it can result in kidney failure.
The scientists also found that eating excess salt causes the brain to over-react to stressful situations causing the nervous system to release chronically high levels of stress hormones and result in short-term spikes in blood pressure (“blood pressure variability”).
- Blood pressure variability used to be considered benign by physicians as long as overall blood pressure was normal. But science finds it increasingly associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular events and death.
Ways to Reduce Sodium Intake
- Eat mostly “real food” (unprocessed).
- Use spices, herbs, and flavored vinegars to season food.
- Read nutrition labels.
- Go easy on condiments, e.g., soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salad dressings, ketchup, seasoned salts, pickles, olives.
- Beware of baked goods. Baked goods like bread and pastries are made with salt as well as baking soda and baking powder which contain sodium. These foods aren’t typically thought of as “salty” but can be sources of hidden sodium.
- Speak up when dining out. Ask to have your food prepared with less salt. Use squeezes of lemon or lime to add flavor to your food.