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People who are sensitive to salt may be at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. This comes from a study that points to the need for better genetic testing for sodium sensitivity.
Scientists already knew that high salt sensitivity is more common in people with high blood pressure, which is a leading preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However, the researchers wanted to investigate whether the salt sensitivity leads to hypertension or is a result of it.
The new study, published Monday in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension, determined the salt sensitivity of 1,604 Chinese adults to a seven-day low-salt diet followed by a seven-day high-salt diet. After an average of 7.4 years of observing participants, the researchers found that people with high sodium sensitivity were 43% more likely to develop high blood pressure than people with moderate sensitivity.
The results suggest that sodium sensitivity is a cause and not a consequence of high blood pressure, said study author Dr. Jiang He.
“This really supports the idea that we need to pay more attention to reducing salt consumption in the general population,” he said, professor of epidemiology and director of the Translational Science Institute at Tulane University in New Orleans.
According to previous studies, reducing salt levels not only helps prevent high blood pressure, but also has an additional benefit: it reduces stiff arteries, a condition associated with heart attacks and strokes.
The new research was part of the Genetic Epidemiology Network of Salt Sensitivity, or the GenSalt study, which included genetic testing. Researchers said it was the largest diet-feeding study to test sodium sensitivity and resistance to blood pressure.
However, the genetic aspect of the study was “very challenging,” he said.
“We haven’t been able to identify genetic variants or other biomarkers for salt sensitivity. We clearly need more research in this area to identify easy ways to identify people who are salt sensitive.”
The results were also limited by the fact that the study was conducted exclusively on Chinese adults. A much larger study is needed in the US involving a diverse group of people who may be more sensitive to salt, he said.
“It’s an important study that has taken the difficult, unusual step of measuring blood pressure for years, which gives more credibility to its results. It’s a good first step,” said Dr. Gordon Harold Williams, who was not involved in the research.
Step two – developing genetic tests to find out which salt-sensitive people are at increased risk for high blood pressure – is getting harder, said Williams, director of the Cardiovascular Injury Hormonal Mechanism Laboratory at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“It would be pretty easy to do this study if you did it with the color of your eyes. But there are so many different mechanisms that can lead to blood pressure salt sensitivity, so many environmental factors that can influence what causes a given gene variance certain person, “said Williams, also a professor at Harvard Medical School.
However, Williams hopes that with enough research, scientists will soon be able to test people for higher salt sensitivity risks, just as they routinely test for genetic variations to guide cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“I think this study and this topic will energize people,” he said. “Hopefully we will have personalized medicine for this on the horizon too.”
Biomarkers discovered for the salt sensitivity of blood pressure
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