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UVA Study Finds Salt May Not Contribute To High Blood Pressure

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A new study shows a diet high in salt may not be so bad after all.
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A new study shows a diet high in salt may not be so bad after all.

Doctors have long advised people with high blood pressure to cut back on salt consumption, but a new study from the University of Virginia says that may not be necessary.

Dr. Robin Felder put 183 people on a salt-free diet and monitored their blood pressure for seven days. He then gave the same people a week of meals high in salt, and was surprised to find that only one in four responded with an increase in blood pressure.

"Twenty-five percent of individuals are salt sensitive, and about 11 percent are inverse salt-sensitive, and everybody else sits in the middle," says Felder.

In other words, for most of us, salt is not a problem, and for 11 percent, a diet low in salt actually produced high blood pressure. Felder's team then did a genetic analysis of about a dozen people from the study.

They discovered that individuals who are salt sensitive possessed a gene that set them up for their salt sensitivity. Finally, scientists took genes from salt sensitive people — the ones who got high blood pressure when they ate salt — and implanted them in mice.

"We actually put the genes into a mouse, and low and behold, we have a salt-sensitive mouse, a hypertensive mouse and a normotensive mouse," he says.

Felder is now working on educational materials for doctors and hopes to educate parents, so children who are at risk for high blood pressure can be raised on a diet that won't lead to heart disease and other complications.

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