High-salt diets have long been linked to high blood pressure, but new
research finds that those with the condition may have a far greater preference
for salty foods than those with normal blood pressure.
In a small study of older adults, researchers from the University of Sao
Paulo in Brazil found that participants with high blood pressure, or
hypertension, favoured bread dusted with the highest concentration of salt more
than twice as much as those with normal blood pressure. Adding other seasonings
to the salted bread, however, diminished the preference for salt across both
The question remains: Are people with high blood pressure naturally drawn to
salty foods, making them more prone to the condition?
"This is difficult to answer, but I believe that the genetic factor to salt
appetite can be the beginning of the process," said study author Patricia
Villela, a nutritionist and doctoral student at the university. "I was surprised
by the fact that added seasonings may have changed the preference of the
elderly, decreasing [their] appetite for salt."
How the study was done
About 67 million American adults - roughly one in three - have high blood
pressure, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as do
nearly 1 billion people worldwide. The condition puts people at risk for heart
disease, kidney damage, strokes and vision loss, among other health
Villela and her team analysed 44 seniors with an average age of 73, including
16 with normal blood pressure readings. All were initially given three pieces of
French bread with varying amounts of salt on each. In that test, 68% of
participants with high blood pressure preferred the bread with the highest
concentration of salt, compared with 31% of those with normal blood
Fifteen days later, participants underwent a similar test, but this time
other seasonings had been added to the salted bread. In that case, only 14% of
patients with hypertension and none with normal blood pressure favoured the
bread with the highest salt content.
Dr Domenic Sica, president-elect of the American Society of Hypertension,
said the findings may have been influenced by the limited number of patients
"The concept of taste retraining in hypertensive patients, either young or
old, is at the foundation of this [research] and is studied in a creative
manner," said Sica, a professor of internal medicine and nephrology at Virginia
Commonwealth University, in Richmond. "How rapidly salt preference fell in this
study is surprising, and may relate to the small number of subjects studied and
a possible training effect."
Some previous studies have pointed to a genetic predisposition to craving
salty foods, Villela said, and although there is no way of knowing who may have
this predisposition, patients should know it is important to avoid salt despite
"[In future research], it would be important to demonstrate that changes in
habits can be maintained in the long term and the effect of these changes is
reducing cardiovascular risk," she said.
The US National Library of Medicine has more about high
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