Beware of Salt and Elevated Blood Pressure Levels

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Food and Nutrition, Blood Pressure
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

I’ll never forget a patient I treated a few years ago who was living with chronic hypertension.  One Easter Sunday, he ate his fill of canned ham (packed with salt) and found himself in the hospital emergency room the next day.  He was in a hypertensive crisis and suffering with acute heart failure. His heart just couldn’t handle the large amount of salt he had consumed.

His was an extraordinary situation, but it underscores the need to be careful with salt intake. So please let his story be a lesson to you.   And please share it with family and friends who may be dealing with cardiovascular problems.

Here are some things you need to know about salt consumption:

  • Your body requires sodium (a component of salt) to regulate fluid balance and distribution, as well as nerve and muscle cell function. Although you need some sodium, the standard diet includes way too much.
  • “Salt sensitivity” is a key factor in determining the response to dietary salt intake. Cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke, are more common in “salt sensitive” patients than in “salt resistant” ones.
  • The current recommendation for salt consumption is less than 2,400 mg of sodium a day, which amounts to about one teaspoon of salt. Recent research suggests that people ingesting less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day are better able to control high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, you should definitely aim for that kind of level. Don’t use salt from the shaker, and read labels to add up the amount you’re taking in.
  • Many items at fast food restaurants are high in salt, so you can easily exceed the recommended level with one serving.
  • You can easily make up for the reduced salt in your diet by cooking with fresh herbs and spices such as basil, garlic, oregano, rosemary, chives, parsley, and onion. What’s more, all of these flavorings contain natural substances that are good for your health. Garlic, in particular, has been shown to have a positive effect on blood pressure when consumed on a daily basis.
  • Beware of cutting your salt consumption too much. You need a minimum amount of sodium in your system to maintain proper electrolyte balance, regardless of your blood pressure status. For that reason, don’t let your daily salt intake fall below about 500 mg.

Managing your salt intake is just one of the natural ways to lower blood pressure that are highlighted here. For even more information on reducing hypertension visit While there, sign up for FREE e-letters or subscribe to Dr. Sinatra’s monthly newsletter, Heart, Health & Nutrition.


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