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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs