- Potassium-enriched salt substitutes did not increase the risk of high blood pressure in older adults, a new study found.
- Reducing sodium in the diet is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, but it can be challenging for people to do consistently.
- In the study, a salt substitute did not increase the risk of low blood pressure episodes, which can increase the chances of older adults falling and hurting themselves.
Replacing regular table salt with a potassium-enriched salt substitute reduced the development of high blood pressure in older adults without triggering episodes of low blood pressure, a new study found.
Nearly half of adults in the United States have high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Reducing sodium intake in your diet is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of high blood pressure.
But it can be a challenge because of the effect sodium has on the taste of foods and the high amounts of sodium in many packaged foods and restaurant or fast food meals.
“Our results show an exciting advance in blood pressure maintenance that offers a way for people to protect their health and minimize the potential for cardiovascular risks, while still enjoying the benefits of adding delicious flavor to their meals. favorites,” said study author Dr. Yangfeng Wu, executive director of the Peking University Clinical Research Institute in Beijing, China, in a Press release.
The study was published on February 12 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Normal blood pressure is less than 120 mm Hg/80 mm Hg. A systolic blood pressure between 120 and 129 (with a diastolic pressure less than 80 mm Hg) is considered elevated or prehypertensive.
Stage 1 high blood pressure is
- systolic blood pressure (top number on a blood pressure reading) greater than 130 mm Hg
- Diastolic blood pressure (bottom number on a blood pressure reading) greater than 80 mm Hg
Stage 2 high blood pressure is defined as:
- systolic blood pressure (top number on a blood pressure reading) greater than 140 mm Hg
- diastolic blood pressure (bottom number on a blood pressure reading) greater than 90 mm Hg
The study included 611 people aged 55 and older living in 48 long-term care facilities in China. The average age of the participants was 71 years and three-quarters were men.
To be included, participants could not have blood pressure readings higher than 140 mmHg/90 mmHg and could not be taking medications for high blood pressure at the start of the study.
The researchers randomly assigned half of the facilities to replace regular salt with a salt substitute, and the rest continued using regular salt.
Typical table salt is almost exclusively sodium chloride. It may also contain iodine (for thyroid health) and, in the case of sea salt, traces of other minerals. The salt substitute used in the study contained about a third less sodium chloride than table salt.
The salt substitute also contained 25% potassium chloride (which does not increase blood pressure) and 12% dried food flavorings such as mushroom, lemon, seaweed, hawthorn and wild jujube, as well as traces of amino acids.
“By mimicking the taste of sodium without its adverse effects, salt substitutes provide a valuable tool to meet dietary restrictions and promote better health outcomes,” said Dr. María Carolina Delgado Lelievreassistant professor of medicine at UHealth Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami Health System, who was not involved in the new research.
After two years, people who used the salt substitute were 40% less likely to develop high blood pressure compared to those who used regular salt, the researchers found.
Additionally, people who used the salt substitute did not have an increased risk of episodes of low blood pressure or hypotension.
Older adults are more susceptible to hypotension, the authors wrote, because they often have multiple chronic health problems and may be taking medications for hypertension or other conditions that lower blood pressure.
Low blood pressure increases the risk of falls in older adults, which can lead to injury and death.
“The findings imply that incorporating salt substitutes into the diet could potentially reduce the risk of developing hypertension and associated cardiovascular diseases…without introducing additional health risks,” Delgado-Lelievre told Healthline.
Wu said in the release that a salt substitute could be extremely beneficial for people already struggling with high blood pressure.
“Therefore, (the use of salt substitutes is) a desirable population strategy for the prevention and control of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases,” he stated.
However, Delgado-Lelievre cautions against applying the results of this study to people with high blood pressure.
“More research is needed specifically targeting people with high blood pressure to fully understand the potential benefits of salt replacement in this group,” he said.
The study had several limitations, such as the results of the study were not specified before its start. However, the findings are consistent with those of the original study and with what is currently known about salt substitutes and blood pressure, the researchers said.
Additionally, the researchers were not able to follow all participants for the full two years, so a “significant proportion” of blood pressure measurements were missing. However, these missing values occurred at random, they wrote, and multiple analyzes supported the robustness of the results.
While people can choose to use salt substitutes, Delgado-Lelievre said broader adoption of these products will require collaboration between public health authorities, food manufacturers and consumers.
Consumer educational campaigns and policy initiatives can also encourage the use of salt substitutes among different consumer groups, he said.
“By raising awareness and providing access to alternatives, these efforts have the potential to have a significant impact on hypertension prevention and overall cardiovascular health,” he added.
However, salt substitutes are not the only way to reduce sodium in your diet. Here are some other ideas:
- Read and compare nutrition labels and choose products with the least amount of sodium per serving.
- Be careful with condiments and salad dressings, which are often loaded with sodium. Instead, look for reduced-sodium or low-sodium versions, or make your own low-sodium salad dressing.
- Choose canned vegetables without added salt and buy frozen vegetables without high-salt sauces.
- Use flavorful ingredients when cooking, such as herbs, spices, onions, garlic, citrus, and vinegar. These can often replace some or all of the salt in a recipe.
- Roast vegetables to bring out their natural flavors. This can be done even with vegetables that will be added to soups or stews.
- When eating at restaurants, look for low-salt options and ask that your food be prepared without additional salt. Also, ask that sauces and dressings be served on the side and use them sparingly.
In a study of older adults living in long-term care, researchers randomly assigned facilities to use a potassium-rich salt substitute or regular salt.
After two years, those who used a salt substitute had a 40% lower risk of developing high blood pressure compared to those who used regular salt.
Using a salt substitute also did not increase people’s chances of having a low blood pressure episode, which is linked to a higher risk of injury from falls and death among older adults.