Should you be on a low-sodium diet?

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Dr. Daniel Rudic, vascular biologist in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. CREDIT/PHIL JONES, AUGUSTA UNIVERSITY
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Dr. Daniel Rudic, vascular biologist in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. CREDIT/PHIL JONES, AUGUSTA UNIVERSITY

Roughly one in three Americans suffers from high blood pressure, a leading cause of stroke and heart disease.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is especially pervasive in the South. (Georgia has the 12th-highest rate of hypertension in the country.)

Doctors recommend a low-salt diet as a way to combat high blood pressure. That can be a big challenge for many people, given the loads of sodium poured into so many highly processed foods.

But it turns out managing chronic high blood pressure may be even more challenging than once thought.

A new study shows that a low-sodium diet may actually not help people who experience disruptions in their circadian rhythms.

“Circadian rhythm is the daily rhythm in our bodies, and probably the most well-known is that of waking and sleeping,” said Dr. Daniel Rudic, a vascular biologist at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia.

Sleep is when our body’s organs are supposed to get at least a bit of a break — with blood pressure decreasing. Rudic’s research shows, however, that a low-salt diet may actually prevent that pressure dip in people who have sleep disorders or other circadian rhythm problems.

“Our data suggests that low salt does what it should do in a normal mouse: it lowers blood pressure. But when we fed a low-salt diet to a mouse that had a circadian dysfunction, basically a sleep disorder, low sodium actually causes this non-dipping blood pressure and vascular disease,” Rudic said.

The exact causes of this reaction aren’t completely understood and need more study, but the take-home message is that some patients may benefit from a 24-hour blood pressure check, Rudic said.

And — for those of us salt lovers out there — it’s important to note that Rudic says his study doesn’t mean most of us should abandon a low-sodium diet.


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