News / Health

Dietary Changes Help Lower Blood Pressure

Watch video by VOA's Carol Pearson

High Blood Pressure Threatens One Third of World's Adultsi
X
April 05, 2013 10:49 PM
The United Nations' World Health Day is April 7, and the World Health Organization this year is calling on the international medical community to step up efforts to prevent and control high blood pressure, a major cause of heart disease, stroke, and death. The UN health agency says one third of people over the age of 25 have high blood pressure. VOA's Carol Pearson reports that many of them don't even know they have it.
High Blood Pressure Threatens One Third of World's Adults

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
Sunday, April 7, is World Health Day, and this year’s theme is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. The World Health Organization has recommended reducing salt or sodium intake to lower the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease and kidney failure. But researchers say the benefits would be greater if dietary potassium intake was increased at the same time.

The WHO says high blood pressure affects one billion people worldwide. It leads to many deaths or permanent disabilities. Hypertension is called the silent killer because there are few obvious symptoms.

The good news is it’s often preventable. There are many studies indicating that reducing salt or sodium intake can lower the risk of stroke and related illnesses.

Professor Graham MacGregor and his colleagues have reviewed past studies on salt intake and conducted their own. 

"When you eat more salt, the salt’s absorbed into the body and then you get thirsty. You drink more water. As you know, salt makes you thirsty. That increases the amount of fluid around the cells because salt is the main regulator of the volume of fluid both in the circulation and the fluid around the cells – the so-called extra cellular volume. Now when that reaches a certain point, a message goes to the kidney that, hey, the body’s got more salt in it. And then you start excreting in the urine more salt. So you come back into balance,” he said.

MacGregor is a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Barts and London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

“When you’re on the high salt intake you always have some extra salt in you and a slightly greater volume of blood. And that’s what puts up the blood pressure. I mean, if you wanted, an analogous thing would be really like a central heating system. If you put more water into closed system, the pressure will go up.”

The body does need some salt, he said, about less than half a gram per day. However, people in developed nations are eating about eight to ten grams a day.

“So we’re eating about 20 times more salt than we need, but no mammal normally adds salt to their food. We’re the only mammals that do. We’ve only been doing it about 5,000 years because it had this magic property of preserving food and was very important to the development of civilization. But without that discovery, we wouldn’t be eating salt,” he said.

Much of the processed food today contains high levels of salt. That in combination with high sugar content can make so-called junk food delicious, but not nutritious.

MacGregor said that lowering salt can go a long way to reducing hypertension, but he says there’s more than can be done, namely, increasing potassium intake. Studies show that higher potassium intake has been linked with a 24 percent lower risk of strokes in adults and may have a beneficial effect on blood pressure in children.

“It’s in fruit and vegetables and also in unprocessed meat and fish. Probably during evolution, we were eating two of three times the amount of potassium we eat [now]. And the food industry, of course, when it processes food removes potassium and adds salt, which is the worst possible thing to do.”

Potassium, he said, counteracts some of the effects of salt. It’s also important for nerve function and muscle control. The general recommendation is to get it through food and not supplements. People in developed countries consume about three grams of potassium a day through diet.

“The recommendation is that we should eat about four grams. Now to increase your potassium by one gram is equivalent to two or three servings of fruits and vegetables. It’s equivalent to two or three bananas or two or three oranges or an orange, an apple and a banana or a serving of a vegetable and two fruit servings,” he said.

It sounds easy, but health officials say it can be difficult to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables. MacGregor says in Britain, despite spending millions of dollars on awareness campaigns, daily consumption of potassium has barely increased. But Britain has had some success in reducing dietary salt or sodium.

“Eighty percent of the salt we eat is courtesy of the food industry. We have no choice. It’s already there. And what we’ve done in the U.K. is to get the food industry to slowly reduce the amount of salt they add to food. So salt intake in the U.K. has fallen from I think 9.5 grams a day to 8.1, which is about a 15 percent reduction, which will have saved I think 9,000 deaths a year from strokes and heart attacks,” he said.

Professor MacGregor said that by gradually reducing salt in foods people are less likely to notice the taste difference.

Health officials are raising concerns about developing countries with growing economies. Those nations are adopting a western diet – with its salty, sugary and fatty foods. Officials are forecasting a sharp rise in cardiovascular disease, along with obesity-related illnesses.

You May Like

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs