Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hypertension - the 'silent' killer

Apart from being one of the three major risk factors for CHD, high blood pressure is also the single most important risk factor for cerebrovascular disease (strokes). Hypertension affects one in five people in South Africa - yet many are unaware that they suffer from it until a routine medical check-up reveals the problem.

The specific causes of 95% of hypertension cases are unknown, although it is clear that certain dietary factors are important contributors. These include obesity, stress and excessive intakes of sodium (salt) and alcohol. The danger of high blood pressure is that it adds to the workload of the heart and arteries and accelerates atherosclerosis (blocking of the arteries), causing structural changes in the arteries - the higher the pressure, the greater the amount of damage done.

Diet Start

The salt/hypertension link

Evidence that there is an important link between a high salt intake and hypertension is sometimes described as 'circumstantial', but it is nevertheless very significant. While it may be impossible to prove that sodium is a direct cause of the condition, the incriminating evidence seems sufficient to recommend a general reduction in the consumption of salt.

Sodium is an unnecessary supplement to our diet - many foods have a natural sodium content which is quite sufficient for our needs - but we acquire the taste for added salt simply because it is given to us from an early age and it becomes a habit to pour it onto our food. The average South African consumes 10-15 g of salt a day, which is well above the recommended amount of 7,5 g. This includes salt which has been added to processed foods, in home cooking and at the table.

Although many people have normal blood pressure levels in spite of a high sodium intake, the recommendation is that since a low intake has no ill effects - while too much salt clearly raises the blood pressure levels of a large number of people - it makes sense to be on the safe side and either throw out the salt cellar or at least restrict its use considerably.

... andjoyohoxing