Reasons to Reduce Sodium Intake

Benefits Of Limiting Sodium Intake

Approximately 40 percent of people with high blood pressure are sodium sensitive. In addition, people with diabetes tend to be more sensitive to high levels of sodium. Exactly what causes sodium sensitivity is not known. Genetics may play a role in some cases. There’s no easy way to tell if you’re sodium-sensitive other than to limit your consumption of sodium and see if doing so lowers your blood pressure. Medical tests can pinpoint your response to varying levels of sodium, but testing isn’t practical or necessary.

If you’re sensitive to sodium, following a low-sodium diet will likely produce a noticeable reduction in your blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor also may recommend a diuretic medication that eliminates excess fluid from your blood. Even if you take a diuretic, you still need to avoid too much sodium. If you don’t, the drug may cause you to lose excessive amounts of other essential minerals, such as potassium and magnesium.

The National High Blood Pressure Education Program, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, recommends that all Americans limit sodium to 2,400 mg a day. That’s equivalent to about a teaspoon of salt. Many health professionals and organizations, including doctors in Mayo Clinic’s Division of Hypertension, support this recommendation. Here’s why:

* If you have high blood pressure and you’re sodium-sensitive, reducing sodium can lower your blood pressure. Limiting sodium in combination with other lifestyle changes, such as following a healthful diet and increasing your activity level, may be enough to keep you from having to take medication to control your blood pressure.

* If you’re taking blood pressure medication, limiting sodium can help increase the effectiveness of the drug.

* If you’re at risk for high blood pressure, limiting sodium along with other lifestyle changes may help prevent development of the disease.

* If you’re healthy, limiting sodium as part of a healthful diet is safe and reasonable. In addition, it may keep you from becoming at risk for the disease as you get older, when high blood pressure is more prevalent and your sensitivity to sodium often increases.

Although it hasn’t been proven that reducing sodium will reduce your risk for high blood pressure, large population studies show that when people cut back on sodium their blood pressures decrease. There are also fewer deaths from heart attack and stroke. This suggests that the average person, especially one with a family history of high blood pressure, may benefit from reducing sodium.