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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

US Urges Taliban to Remain Engaged in Afghan Peace Talks

US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Daniel Feldman recently met with Pakistani and Afghan officials as talks were disrupted by news of Taliban chief Mullah Omar's death More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs