The relationship between sodium chloride and high blood pressure has been suspected for at least sixty years, and research into the relationship continues today. Studies reported in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine offer data supporting the concept that sodium chloride can increase blood pressure in some people although other sodium compounds do not. Researchers reported “… a greater increase in blood pressure among hypertensive subjects receiving sodium chloride than among those receiving sodium bicarbonate. “
Although the difference in reaction couldn’t be accounted for, in the report it was speculated that the chloride caused the rise in blood pressure. The researchers were on the right track. However, they were looking at how different chemical components react in the body rather than at how the body responds to them. What the body does with the food we eat is more important than how the stimulating elements react. We’re looking at the same situation, but from a different perspective.
The comparison in the study reported in the NEJM was between sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonate. Since blood pressure went up when the subjects consumed sodium chloride but not when they consumed sodium bicarbonate, chloride was tagged as the culprit. In reality, it is the body’s response to the stimulus (sodium chloride or sodium bicarbonate) that is the crucial point. Although sodium and chloride can be separated in a laboratory setting, we excrete as much sodium chloride as we consume. If we get rid of as much as we eat, it stands to reason that the body can’t use it.
The body can process sodium citrate of this study and sodium bicarbonate of the sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonate study. Both sodium citrate and sodium bicarbonate can be broken down into their component parts and each of the parts can be used. Sodium chloride, as we have seen, remains intact and must be dealt with as an intruder. Sodium chloride can’t contribute anything to homeostatic balance. As with any “intruder,” it upsets the order and rhythm of the body’s functions.
An article in Reader’s Digest” defended salt as a much-maligned, necessary nutrient. The article referred to the results of a study indicating no change in the blood pressure of people with normal pressure when salt intake was decreased or when it was reinstated. However, blood pressure of high-blood- pressure subjects was lowered when salt was restricted, and it went up again when their salt intake was returned to the former level. We have come to expect these responses.
The same article noted other research in Israel showing that blood pressure was lowered for overweight high-blood-pressure subjects when they reduced calories rather than salt. The conclusions of the studies illustrate how a fundamental attitude influences interpretations of data and symptoms. If you look at the body as a hodgepodge of chemicals that must be controlled, manipulated, and outwitted, your chances of reaching erroneous conclusions are greatly enhanced.