High blood pressure? Reducing salt in your diet may be as effective as a common drug, study finds

Want to lower your blood pressure? Cutting back on salt in your diet could help do just that — and according to new research, for many people it may be as effective as taking a common blood pressure medication.

The study, published Saturday in JAMA, found that reducing sodium consumption significantly lowered blood pressure in the majority of participants. 

Researchers examined 213 participants aged 50 to 75 on their usual diets as well as high- and low-sodium diets. The high-sodium diets contained approximately 2200 mg of added sodium daily, and low-sodium diets contained about 500 mg of sodium daily. The group included a mix of people with and without existing blood pressure issues. 

After one week of a low-sodium diet, they saw an average 8 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure (the first number in the reading) compared to a high-sodium diet, and a 6 mm Hg reduction compared to a normal diet. The researchers noted that's comparable to the average benefits of a commonly prescribed drug for the condition, hydrochlorothiazide (12.5 mg dose).

The low-sodium diet involved reducing salt intake by a median amount of about 1 teaspoon per day.

"The low-sodium diet lowered systolic blood pressure in nearly 75% of individuals compared with the high-sodium diet," the authors wrote, adding that the results were seen "independent of hypertension status and antihypertensive medication use, were generally consistent across subgroups, and did not result in excess adverse events." 

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is known as a "silent killer" and can increase a person's risk of heart attack, stroke, chronic kidney disease and other serious conditions. Hypertension contributed to more than 691,000 deaths in the United States in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly half of adults have hypertension, according to the CDC — defined as a systolic blood pressure greater than 130, or a diastolic blood pressure greater than 80. And only about 1 in 4 adults with hypertension have it under control, the agency estimates. 

Salt isn't the only thing in our diets that may have an effect on blood pressure.

Earlier this year, research published in the American Heart Association's journal Hypertension found routinely drinking alcohol — as little as one drink a day — is associated with an increase in blood pressure readings, even in adults without hypertension.


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