Heart Health

Cutting sodium significantly lowers blood pressure

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By , Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

illustration of a circulaar green seal with the words low sodium around the top and bottom, with a simplified icon of a salt shaker in white on black in the center

When you have high blood pressure, the first line of defense is taking a medication to treat it. But eliminating the equivalent of a teaspoon of salt (sodium chloride) from your daily diet might be just as effective, suggests a small randomized study published online Nov. 11, 2023, by JAMA. Researchers asked 213 people (ages 50 to 75, with normal blood pressure, controlled high blood pressure, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or untreated high blood pressure) to try two different diets. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to eat a high-sodium diet for one week that added 2,200 milligrams (mg) of sodium (about a teaspoon of salt) per day to their usual diet. The others ate a low-sodium diet that allowed just 500 mg of sodium per day. Then the participants switched diets, eating the opposite diet for one week. Participants' blood pressure measurements and urine samples (to measure sodium intake) were collected periodically during the study. What the scientists found: when participants ate the low-sodium diet, the vast majority experienced an average 8-point drop in their systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure measurement) compared to when they ate a high-sodium diet, and an average 6-point drop compared to when they ate their usual diets. The low-sodium diet reduced sodium intake by about the amount in a teaspoon of salt per day, compared with participants' usual diet.

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About the Author

photo of Heidi Godman

Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Heidi Godman is the executive editor of the Harvard Health Letter. Before coming to the Health Letter, she was an award-winning television news anchor and medical reporter for 25 years. Heidi was named a journalism fellow … See Full Bio
View all posts by Heidi Godman

About the Reviewer

photo of Anthony L. Komaroff, MD

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter

Dr. Anthony L. Komaroff is the Steven P. Simcox/Patrick A. Clifford/James H. Higby Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and editor in chief of the Harvard … See Full Bio
View all posts by Anthony L. Komaroff, MD


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