BFM News! Salt-Sensitive Hypertension Advance!

In our on-going coverage of BFM healthnews (see the Doc Gurley post, Black Future Month, for more info), we here at thesalt.jpg Doc Gurley headquarters have found some important advances in news affecting people with salt-sensitive high blood pressure (which tends to be over-represented among African Americans). Salt-sensitive high blood pressure is pretty much just like the name sounds–people who have it hang onto every molecule of salt, and our American excess of dietary salt means their blood pressure goes higher and higher. Researchers are narrowing in on the gene most likely to trigger salt-sensitive hypertension. The contest is heating up and research arrows are flying at the target, getting closer and closer to a bull’s eye. We found a practical nugget buried in all the eye-crossingly-difficult-to-read-genetic research here. One of the reasons salt-sensitive high blood pressure is scientifically trendy is because some unexpected findings are cropping up–namely that salt-sensitive high blood pressure can cause a low-level inflammation in the kidneys (kidney failure from high blood pressure is also a disease more common among African Americans). Researchers, however, have found that giving rats potassium (the main ingredient in most salt-substitutes) actually reverses the kidney inflammation of salt-sensitive hypertension. This, if proven in humans, is exciting news indeed. So how can you put this research to practical use–or is it too early to use?

1) If you’re already using it, keep using it: If you have salt-sensitive high blood pressure, and your doctor has encouraged you to use a salt-substitute, make sure you’re using one with potassium and then feel great about your choice! Let this news be a welcome chance to reinforce using the potassium salt-substitute. If you find that, as you use salt-substitute, your blood pressure comes down (even to the point where you stop your medicine) I’d say, with your doctor’s blessing, that you keep using the salt substitute. A little prevention can go a long way.

2) If you have kidney problems, don’t! If you have kidney failure, or kidney problems of any kind DO NOT (repeat: do not) start adding salt-substitute potassium to your food without your doctor’s supervision! Extra potassium is handled pretty well in people with healthy kidneys, but can be very dangerous in people with struggling kidneys.

3) If you don’t know, find out. If you don’t know if your high blood pressure is salt sensitive, talk to your doctor. You need to make sure you’re not taking a medicine (high blood pressure pill or another one) that might make adding potassium to your meals dangerous (and there are pills like that out there!). Once you have some blood tests–and your doctor’s blessing–consider using a potassium salt-substitute, as long as your blood potassium levels are being monitored.

3) If you’re healthy, should you try it? If you don’t have high blood pressure, but it runs in your family, and you’re young and healthy, should you consider using potassium salt-substitute instead of salt? Would this prevent you from getting high blood pressure? Unfortunately, the jury’s still out on this issue. None of us can rely, 100%, on those research rats to always speak the truth (and, really, who can blame them?).

Historical tidbit: Traders in tropical, sub-Saharan Africa traded salt for gold–one to one. Was it because these traders were being duped? Did they not know better? No. In fact, salt was necessary for survival in tropical heat, and was scarce, whereas gold was abundant and really, when you come right down to it–useless. There’s a reason some human bodies work so hard to hang onto every salt molecule–not that long ago, your life would have depended on it.

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