High Blood Pressure: Salt and Potassium

High Blood Pressure

You probably know that high blood pressure is the most common preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

One of the most common causes is the dysregulation between sodium, chlorine, and potassium.

High blood pressure increases the risk of:

  • Coronary heart disease.
  • Heart failure.
  • Cerebrovascular accident
  • Myocardial infarction.
  • Atrial fibrillation and peripheral artery disease.
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD).
  • Cognitive impairment

For all these consequences and their derivatives, hypertension is the main contributor to mortality and disability worldwide.

In this article, you will discover the relationship between hypertension and sodium, chlorine, and potassium. Also you’ll learn how to regulate these three elements to improve your health from tomorrow.

What is hypertension?

Systemic arterial hypertension

Systemic arterial hypertension is characterized by persistently high blood pressure (BP) in the systemic arteries.

BP is commonly expressed as the relationship between:

The systolic BP is the pressure that the blood exerts on the arterial walls when the heart contracts. Diastolic BP is the pressure of the heart at a rested state.

The relationship between BP and increased risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is gradual and continuous. That is to say:

If you raise your pressure beyond its average value (115/75 mmHg), the risk of CVD will increase.

The evolutionary approach and its relation to today

Hypertension is an excellent example of how vital the evolutionary approach is. This shows that we need to reconcile with the past to look to the future.

In pre-industrial societies, BP levels had narrow distributions with mean values ​​that changed little with age and averaged around 115/75 mmHg. This probably represents normal (or ideal) blood pressure for humans.

However, there is a direct correlation between high systolic BP levels and age in most modern societies. This means that as you age, it is more likely that you will have higher BP levels.

This universal finding could be explained by the fact that age increases the probability of exposure to the many dietary and environmental factors that increase BP.

The importance of chlorine, sodium, and potassium

The importance of chlorine to the human body

If you remember the chemistry classes, you will know that salt is composed of two elements, sodium and chlorine. Two of the three fundamental aspects to control hypertension. It just lacks potassium. Remember this information, which will be useful later.

These three minerals are all friends, but each plays a unique role in friendship.

Chlorine follows sodium wherever it goes and never departs from it. Chlorine follows sodium wherever it goes and never moves away from it. Sodium and potassium always chase each other.

As the picture shows when sodium enters the cell, potassium leaks out. When sodium takes the bus back to the outside of the cell, potassium takes the same bus back to the inside.

It will soon see that it serves to keep sodium (and the chloride that always follows it) primarily out of cells and potassium within cells.

Because as you will see, there can be no adequate hydration without considering these three elements.

Salt, chlorine, and potassium are hydrating.

Sodium (Na +), potassium (K +), and Chloride (Cl-) ions are highly soluble in water and are called electrolytes.

Electrolytes are essential because they help balance the amount of water in your body. Electrolytes are minerals and are found in your blood, urine, tissues, and other body fluids.  

On the subject of hydration, it is essential to know that water has an infinite admiration for chlorine, potassium, and sodium. As a result, multitudes of water molecules surround these magnificent three wherever they go. Since they attract water, they are hydrating.

Potassium uses water to hydrate your blood cells

As we saw, potassium is found inside cells, and therefore potassium mainly hydrates the inside of cells. Salt (sodium + chlorine) is located outside the cells, primarily hydrating the “extracellular fluid” that includes the blood.

The water you drink has to travel from your intestines into your blood before it can enter your cells. As a result, potassium cannot hydrate cells on its own. Potassium uses water to hydrate your cells.

This is why drinking a glass of water with a pinch of salt (about 1/16 teaspoon) and a little potassium-rich lemon juice (about 1⁄2 lemon) is much more hydrating than drinking a glass of plain water.

Raw foods contain a lot of water, so as long as you choose potassium-rich natural foods. Adding a little bit of salt, the foods are likely to be very hydrating.

What is the relationship between salt, potassium, blood pressure, and bloating?

The importance of sodium to the human body

If you overeat salt and not enough potassium, the water will get into your blood and other extracellular fluids. Still, your cells could become dehydrated because there is not enough potassium to absorb the water.

Potassium is also necessary to remove excess salt by introducing it into the urine. Without it, salt builds up in the blood, causing the blood’s water content to increase.

As the water content of the blood increases, it puts more pressure on the walls of the blood vessels, causing high blood pressure.

Also, extracellular fluid from the face, hands, legs, or just about any part of the body can build up and cause swelling.

High blood pressure itself will force salt out of your urine. This will help bring your blood pressure back to normal.

However, it requires a period of continued high blood pressure, which increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.

Adequate potassium intake helps flush salt out of your system without increasing blood pressure and without an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

To keep your blood pressure stable and avoid bloating, you need to maintain the balance between salt and potassium.

Keeping salt is simple because our body asks for it through hunger and cravings, but not with potassium, as we will see now.

Why do we crave salt but not potassium?

Let’s start our discussion on how much salt and potassium we need by telling you a fun fact:

Humans have five tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (tasty).

Although potassium can activate sweet, salty, and bitter flavors depending on its concentration in food, we have a particular taste for salt and no specific taste for potassium.

Our salty taste not only contributes to the enjoyment of food. It allows us to crave salt when our body needs it or avoid it when we have consumed enough.

But potassium is also an essential nutrient! 

The importance of potassium to the human body

Why not crave for it too?

This is easier to understand if we look back at the diets of ancient prehistoric humans.

Researchers studying ancient hunter-gatherers’ diets have suggested that our distant ancestors consumed about 700 milligrams per day (mg / d) of sodium, mainly from meat, and 11 grams per day (g / d, or 11,000 mg / d)—potassium, mostly from plants.

In contrast, modern humans eat an average of 2.3 to 6.9 g / d of sodium and 3.2 g / d of potassium.

As discussed in the previous section, sodium is necessary to remove additional potassium and potassium to remove extra sodium.

Since our ancestors consumed much more potassium than we do but much less sodium, they were always running low on the amount of sodium they needed to handle their potassium load.

The craving for salt drove them to seek saltier foods, salt deposits, or ocean water that could be used to produce salt.

The 700 mg / d sodium figure I mentioned earlier includes sodium naturally present in meat and vegetables but does not include any salt that our ancestors added to their diets. They most likely consumed more salt than this because their cravings would have led them to seek it out.

Mineral deposits known as ‘salt licks’ are found in nature. Many wild animals such as elk, elephants, tapirs, marmots, fox squirrels, mountain goats, and porcupines have been observed to seek out and lick for more salt and other minerals.

Farmers also provide artificial salt licks for sheep and cattle.

Herbivores, animals that only eat plants, are more likely to use salt than carnivores, probably because their potassium intake is higher and, as a result, so are their sodium needs.

Salt: an ancient currency

This association between the preference for salt and plant foods can also be observed in human cultures. Some ancient economies used salt as payment instead of precious metals. Salus, the Latin word for health, and the root of the Spanish word health are derived from the Latin word sal.

These examples of cultural reverence for salt come from societies where plant foods were an essential part of the diet.

In contrast, plant foods are very limited in the Arctic, and potassium intake is much lower. The explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson studied the Inuit, natives of the Arctic, and wrote My Life with the Eskimo, who hated salt.

They probably ingested a lot of salt naturally present in shellfish but relatively little potassium, and therefore their tastes would lead them to avoid adding additional salt to their food.

Humans are prone to salt

Eating less salt promotes a healthy body

As humans have become more and more productive, we have made it easier to eat salt. Once a craving that pushed us to work for our salt now calms down much more quickly simply by scooping the salt from the center of the table and putting as much as we want in our food.

Meanwhile, we have also excelled at producing high-calorie, low-potassium plant foods. Grains are low in potassium compared to root vegetables like potatoes, legumes (beans, lentils, and peas), fruits, and vegetables. As we become more productive, we increase the number of grains in our diet at the expense of these other foods. In the last century, we began to refine grains to make our bread whiter, fluffier, and give it longer shelf life. Refined flours carry a removal of most of the potassium.

Our ancestors got more potassium than they needed simply by consuming available plants for calories and other nutrients. They required a craving for salt to push them to work for more salt when their bodies needed it.

Now the tables have turned. We have high-calorie, low-potassium foods at our fingertips, and we don’t have cravings to push us for potassium. We crave salt, but we no longer need to work to get it. Instead, it’s in our food, sometimes even protected from our taste buds, and there’s a shaker on our table waiting for us to add more.

In short, your physiology continues to expect that we have more accessible potassium than sodium. That is why, despite the ease with which we obtain salt, we continue to desire it.

Is the ratio of salt and potassium essential to avoid hypertension?

Foods with high content in potassium

Yes, there are several reasons to believe that the ratio of salt to potassium is more important than the absolute amount of either of them or at least that balancing them is of great importance because:

Potassium eliminates the increase in blood pressure caused by salt.

Potassium eliminates urinary calcium loss caused by salt, which

It probably means that balancing the two is essential for bone health.

As we have already discussed, they often work together in the body and need each other to eliminate each other’s excesses.

This does not necessarily mean that we need an exact ratio. I suspect that we need some potassium threshold to tolerate a specific range of sodium and vice versa.

At the very least, we should see the balance between them as fundamental to understanding how much we need from each other.

How to balance salt and potassium?

The American Academy of Medicine recommends about 2,300 mg / d for adult women, 3,400 mg / d for adult men for potassium, and 1,500 – 2,300 mg of sodium per day.

These sodium recommendations only apply to people who do not sweat a lot due to temperature or high-intensity activity and do not take into account the need to balance sodium and potassium.

Based on the physiological needs, the official recommendations consider the minimum goal, but an optimal range would be around 4700-11,000 mg / d for both sexes.

If you consume potassium within the optimal range, you can salt the food to taste without adverse effects on your health. If you consume potassium near the minimum goal, you may need to reduce your sodium intake by 1,500-2,300 mg / d if you feel that higher salt intake raises your blood pressure.

To obtain adequate levels of potassium, we must keep in mind several essential principles:

Fruits tend to contain: 

  • 100 to 500 mg of potassium per 100 g of food, and 

Vegetables generally provide:

  • 200 to 1000 mg of potassium per 100 g of food. 

However, when looked at by calories, these foods become exceptional for potassium. For example, 300 calories from spinach provide more than 7 grams of potassium.

Fat is extremely low in potassium but high in calories

Fresh meats are an excellent potassium source, but they lose a lot when juices are lost during cooking. If you depend on meat for potassium, it is vital to consume the meat’s juices as part of a sauce or stew.

Beware of salt in processed foods.

One of the main problems that leads us to high salt consumption is that sometimes it can be hidden from our tastes. So we consume large quantities without overlooking our natural flavors.

Adding salt to French fries leads to high blood pressure

In foods where you add salt to make the food salty, such as French fries, salt sits on the surface. This way we can taste it more easily. 

However, in bread products and processed meats, salt penetrates the food and adheres to proteins or sticks to jelly-like grids. This usually hides it from our taste buds. If processed food manufacturers want the food to be salty, they need to add a lot of extra salt. 

As a general rule, limit all processed foods (including fermented foods, bread, cheese and hot dogs, as well as cold cuts, fast food, packaged snacks and desserts) to 20% of the diet (you can use weight or volume given that is an approximate measurement) and add salt to all your meals, never add more salt than is necessary to make it taste good. 

If you still feel the need for a saltier taste after that, do not hesitate to add extra fermented foods or cheese.

Conclusions on arterial hypertension, color, sodium, and potassium.

Arterial hypertension

Hypertension is the number 1 risk factor in multiple pathologies.

One of the leading causes of its appearance is the dysregulation between sodium and potassium.

Historically we have had a much more comfortable to obtain high levels of potassium than sodium. That is why we prefer salt and not to potassium.

Currently, the opposite occurs, and we tend to have potassium deficiencies that increase the probability of suffering from hypertension.

Signs that you need more potassium include high blood pressure, water retention and bloating, bone loss, kidney stones, fatigue, muscle weakness and cramps, bloating, constipation, and abdominal pain.

Low sodium intake causes: 

  • low blood pressure, including orthostatic hypotension (which makes you feel dizzy when standing up), 
  • fatigue, weakness, dizziness, diarrhea, poor mental function, 
  • poor digestion, low absorption of nutrients, and 
  • extreme cases of headaches, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, disorientation, and fainting.

High sodium intake causes: 

  • headaches, 
  • high blood pressure, 
  • water retention, and 
  • bloating.

Keeping potassium in the range of 4700-11,000 mg / d will allow you to consume as much salt as you want.

Ways to get the right amount of potassium

  • Prefer eating a lot of fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat plenty of starchy legumes and tubers like potatoes while limiting fat and grains and strictly avoiding refined grains and sugars.
  • Try eating plenty of lean protein foods while limiting fat and consuming all the juices from sauces and stews.

Since it is difficult to get enough salt from most natural foods, if you are not eating any processed foods (including fermented foods, cheese, and hot dogs), you will need to salt your foods to get enough.

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