Salt and Blood Pressure

By Jerilyn Watson

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

Most doctors have long believed that reducing salt can decrease blood pressure. A new American study suggests this is true even when people do not eat the healthiest foods.

The research appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. A team at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts performed the study. Frank Sacks of Harvard University Medical School led the team.

More than four-hundred people took part in the research. Almost half of them had high blood pressure. They all ate foods with different amounts of salt. Salt contains sodium. There is strong evidence that sodium affects blood pressure.

Half the people ate an average American diet. Their food was high in fat and cholesterol. The other people ate low-fat, low-cholesterol foods. Members of the low-fat group ate many vegetables, fruits and grains.

The study showed that the people who ate healthful foods while eating less salt lowered their blood pressure the most. However, blood pressure decreased for both groups when they ate less salt. Almost fifty-million Americans have high blood pressure. Continued high-blood pressure is dangerous because it can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Philip Greenland of Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, Illinois praised the study. He said the decreases in blood pressure among the people in the study were similar to those caused by medicine. However, Doctor Greenland said popular prepared foods need to be improved if people are to decrease salt in their diets. He said most people get their salt mainly from these prepared foods. They include many soups and cooked meat products.

The Salt Institute is an association representing the salt industry. The institute does not dispute the research results. But it says the results show a low-fat diet reduces blood pressure better than reducing salt. The Salt Institute also says efforts to reduce sodium use have proved impossible for twenty years.

David McCarron is a medical professor at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. He says salt does not make much difference in controlling blood pressure when people eat the right foods. Doctor McCarron says healthy diets should include fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Jerilyn Watson.

Voice of America Special English