Volume 26 · August 10th 2015 · Michael Greger, M.D.
High Blood Pressure May Be a Choice
Eating a diet low enough in sodium (salt) can prevent the rise in hypertension risk as we age.
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But if blood pressures over a hundred are associated with disease, maybe they should be considered abnormal, perhaps caused by our abnormally high salt intake—ten times more than what our bodies were designed to handle. Maybe, if we just ate a natural amount of salt, our blood pressures naturally would not go up with age, and we’d be protected. Of course, to test that theory you’d have to find a population in modern times that doesn’t use salt, or eat processed food, or go out to eat. For that, you’d have to go deep into the Amazon rainforest. Meet the Yanomamo people, a no-salt culture.
Lowest salt intake ever reported, which is to say a normal-for-our-species salt intake. And so, what happens to their blood pressure? They start out with a blood pressure of about 100 over 60 and end up with a blood pressure of about 100 over 60. Though theirs is described as a salt deficient diet, that’s like saying they have a diet deficient in Twinkies. They’re the ones, it seems, eating normal salt intakes apparently leading to truly normal blood pressures. Those in their 50’s have the blood pressure of a 20 year old. What was the percentage of the population tested that had high blood pressure? Zero, whereas elsewhere in Brazil, up to 38% of the population may be affected. The Yanomamos probably represent the ultimate human example of the importance of salt on blood pressure.
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Enter Dr. Walter Kempner and his rice and fruit diet. Patients came in with blood pressures of 210 over 140 down to 80 over 60. What was the reason he could ethically withhold all modern blood pressure medications and treat with diet alone? The drugs hadn’t been invented yet—this was back in the 1940’s. Now the diet wasn’t just extremely low salt, but strictly plant-based, extremely low fat, protein, and calories, but there is no doubt that Kempner’s rice diet achieved remarkable results, and Kempner is now remembered as the person who demonstrated, beyond any shadow of doubt, that high blood pressure can often be lowered by a low enough salt diet.
Forty years ago, it was acknowledged that the evidence is very good, if not conclusive, that a low enough reduction of salt in the diet would result in the prevention of essential hypertension—that rising of blood pressure as we age— and its disappearance as a major public health problem. It looks like we knew how to stop this four decades ago. In that time, how many people have died? Today, high blood pressure may wipe out 400,000 Americans every year; 1,000 unnecessary deaths a day.
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Excuse me, we KNEW this in 1940?
Are you kidding me?
In 2012, I was diagnosed with “high blood pressure” after being rejected for a platelet donation. I was put on a drug and a diuretic. The bp quickly dropped back to “normal”-ish on the high side.
I really got the message when I went for my routine eye exam. (I NEED my eyesight.) The eye doc said: “Is your high blood pressure under control?” What! I asked how he knew and he said my eyes showed damage. Arghhhhhh!
Recently I began dating again. (Yeah, you can stop snickering now. Old dogs can be lovable. So too fat old white guy injineers.) To a pescatarian. (Not Presbyterian!) Someone who eats no meat but does eat fish. So naturally, when we go out, I’m a pescatarian too. And I noticed that my bp was going down. So much so, that the phlebotomists (i.e., tech who take my platelets) and my doc all remarked about the change.
(I was 210/180 when rejected. Down to 140/110 after drug intervention. Now 100/65 with pescatarian diet and some very little additional exercise as measure by my Fitbit.)
Then, I listen to this video and maybe my problem all along is salt?
I love salt. Salt on my pizza with my beer is a must have.
In 1940, it was known — proven — that salt is the problem.
The packages should have a skull and cross bones. Labeled like cigarettes.
Hope this helps my fellow Jaspers. It’s been a modest epiphany for me.
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