Nutritional Pearls: Lowering Blood Pressure Without Cutting Sodium

Larry is a 39-year-old man with borderline hypertension. During a regular physical, you ask Larry how his efforts to cut down on sodium have been going. He tells you that although he has been making an effort to cut back, he still consumes more sodium than he should be.

He asks if there is anything else he could do, besides just cutting down on salt, to help lower his blood pressure levels.

How do you advise your patient?

What is the correct answer?
(Answer and discussion on next page)

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Answer: Adding just 3 servings of fruit to a high-salt diet—without reducing the amount of salt you consume—could help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Back in 2012 an Australian team noted that individuals who increased the amount of potassium in their higher-sodium diet still reduced their blood pressures, but not as much as a lower-sodium/high-potassium diet.

High blood pressure is one of many symptoms of heart disease, but there are some indicators that are not so easily measured. We also know that a high-sodium diet can have negative effects on the epithelial cells that line the blood vessels: damage that can predict heart disease even in those with no current symptoms of heart disease.

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The Research

Scientists in Australia recruited 39 adult men and women with normal blood pressures and cholesterol scores to test their theory that adding potassium to a meal high in salt could offset the negative effects of that salt on epithelial cells.1

Once per week for 3 weeks, the participants were served a meal of commercially available reduced sodium tomato soup. On one of the 3 occasions, the soup was served with the addition of a specific amount of salt. On a second occasion, the soup had the same amount of salt as well as potassium added to the soup. And on yet a third occasion, the soup was served with no additives.

The volunteer's blood was tested and other measures of heart activity were taken both before and after each meal, and the results compared to those of the other meals.

The Results

The researchers saw no significant effects of the 3 meals on the volunteers' blood pressures, but endothelial function was less affected by the high-potassium/high-sodium meal than the low-potassium/high-sodium meal.

What’s the Take-Home?

This doesn't mean that eating more fruit can fully negate the effects of a diet high in sodium. It's another tool in your arsenal for pursuing a healthier heart. Besides, fruit is cheap, delicious, filling, and low in calories, so why not eat more fruit?

1. Blanch N, Clifton PM, Petersen KS, Keogh JB. Effect of sodium and potassium supplementation on vascular and endothelial function: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(5):939-946.