Recent research suggests salt sensitivity can be a serious problem. Some people with high blood pressure are known to be salt sensitive. But more importantly, the condition can also occur in people with otherwise “normal” blood pressure. People who are salt-sensitive are over three times more likely to experience a heart attack or stroke than those who are not salt sensitive. So even those with a “healthy” blood pressure range could be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
The problem is that there’s currently no easy way to determine who may be at risk for salt sensitivity. But researchers at the University of Virginia (UVa) Health System are tackling the problem. In the recent study, participants ate a normal salt diet for two weeks. That was followed by a low-salt diet for five days, a high salt-diet for five days and then a normal salt diet the last five days.
The researchers measured blood pressure responses to the changes in dietary sodium levels. Investigators also used blood samples to look for 10 specific genetic variants thought to be associated with high blood pressure. The researchers found three of the genetic variants were more common in participants who were salt sensitive. In fact, these three variants could accurately predict salt sensitivity 94 percent of the time.
Researchers are still studying the specific genetic links to salt sensitivity. They hope to one day be able to develop a test that could predict a person’s risk for salt sensitivity. In the meantime, UVa Pathologist Robin Felder, Ph.D., recommends people with high blood pressure be tested for salt sensitivity. Those who find they have salt sensitivity should take extra steps to lower their sodium intake. Felder says it takes about one week to acquire a taste for low-salt foods.