Low salt DASH diet and weight loss reduce blood pressure

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Low salt diet (DASH) and weight loss may help lower blood pressure as much as medicines

Eating a low-salt diet, when combined with other healthy eating choices and weight loss, may lower blood pressure as successfully as taking a blood pressure lowering tablet, a five-year-long US study has found.

Why is salt so important?

Salt makes your body hold on to water and affects the way your kidneys work:

  • the extra fluid in your blood vessels raises your blood pressure
  • the extra sodium from the salt makes your kidneys work harder - forcing them to release hormones that raise your blood pressure even higher.
Why does your weight matter?

Carrying extra weight makes your heart work harder because it has to push your blood through more body tissue. This makes the heart push more strongly and this raises your blood pressure.

Also, the extra weight is often carried around your stomach and it has been shown that stomach tissues release hormones and chemical messengers that raise your blood pressure.

US study investigated eating a low-salt diet (the DASH diet) combined with active weight loss exercises

A US study looked at the blood pressures of 144 overweight people for five years as they tried to eat a low-salt diet. All the people taking part were:

  • free from health problems
  • not taking blood pressure medications
  • had a systolic (top) blood pressure of 130-159mmHg
  • had a bottom (diastolic) blood pressure of 85-99mmHg.

The people were randomly assigned to:

  • the low-salt diet alone - 46 people
  • low-salt diet combined with a weight-loss programme of exercise and cognitive-behavioural therapy - 49 people
  • no low-salt diet and no weight-loss programme (the control group where people could live however they pleased) - 49 people.

Within just four months, both the low-salt diet alone group and the low-salt diet combined with weight loss group had significantly lowered blood pressures when compared with the control group. And the low-salt diet combined with weight loss group had the greatest lowering of blood pressure.

At the end of the five years, the researchers found that:

  • Low-salt diet only group - lowered systolic (top) blood pressure by 16.1mmHg and diastolic (bottom) blood pressure by 9.9mmHg
  • Low-salt diet combined with weight loss group - lowered systolic (top) blood pressure by 11.2mmHg and diastolic (bottom) blood pressure by 7.5mmHg.
  • Do as you please (control) group - lowered systolic (top) number by 3.4mmHg and diastolic (bottom) pressure by 3.8mmHg.

The level of blood pressure lowering in both the low-salt diet group and the low-salt diet combined with weight loss group was as good as could be expected from taking a single blood pressure tablet.

What is the DASH diet?

DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet. It is diet that has been created by scientists from the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Insitute (NHLBI) that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat and that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.

For more on the DASH diet, please download the booklet "Your guide to lowering your blood pressure with DASH" from the National Insitutes of Health, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

However, if you find the DASH plan too complicated to build into your daily life, we have a range of materials to help you make simple changes to lower your salt intake and reduce your weight, just click on the links below:

Reference: Blumenthal JA, Babyak MA, Hinderliter A et al. The Encore Study. Effects of the DASH Diet Alone and in Combination With Exercise and Weight Loss on Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Biomarkers in Men and Women With High Blood Pressure. Archives of Internal Medicine 2010;170(2):126-135

Topics: High Blood Pressure in the news, Medicines, Lifestyle, High blood pressure

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