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My Experience with Sodium and High Blood Pressure

Updated on August 13, 2015

Recently, I visited the ER with a QT Prolongation (heart rhythm problem) related to a combination of medications I was taking. Between the ER visit and following up with my family doctor, they determined that my blood pressure was slightly elevated. Since it wasn't too serious yet, I opted to try controlling it with diet and exercise, rather than a new medication.

Blood Pressure Levels and Recommendations

Less than 120
Less than 80
Stage 1 Hypertension
Stage 2 Hypertension
160 or higher
100 or higher
Hypertensive Crisis (requiring emergency care)
Over 180
Over 110
Source: American Heart Association

What happened next surprised me

It was both surprising and a little embarrassing when I realized that my low sodium diet had actually become a sodium deficiency. In trying to fix one problem, I had caused another.

I hadn't been counting my sodium intake, just opting for low or no sodium foods. Once I started having symptoms, I took a look at what I had been doing. As it turned out, I was only consuming about 600mg of sodium!

Luckily, I hadn't caused too big of a problem and I was able to simply change my diet and level back out within a couple days.


Risks and Symptoms of Hyponatremia (Sodium Deficiency)

Common symptoms of sodium deficiency include confusion, convulsions, fatigue, headache, irritability, loss of appetite, muscle spasms and/or cramps, muscle weakness, nausea, restlessness and vomiting. Left untreated, hyponatremia can lead to decreased consciousness, hallucinations, coma, brain hernia, and death.

Recommended Sodium Intake - Depends who you ask...

The Harvard School of Medicine recognizes that there is no 'one size fits all' recommendation on sodium intake. However, based on their research, they offer the general guideline of less than 2,300-2,400mg of sodium for older individuals, those of African American descent, or those with high blood pressure or diabetes. This may be in conflict with previous standing recommendations from the American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control, which say less than 1,500mg is ideal for these groups. Research from Harvard School of Medicine suggests this may be an unnecessary deprivation. Also in conflict with previous standing recommendations, Harvard research does not point to any reason for a person not in these groups to worry about their sodium intake at all, while others say that all people should consider cutting back their sodium.


My Conclusion

Most Americans receive as much as 75% of their sodium from processed foods. Conversely, they receive as much as 75% less potassium, compared to a whole foods diet.

I had recently moved from a whole foods diet, which I had maintained for a few years, to a diet relying on processed foods for convenience. THAT was my mistake, and the problem I am focusing on staying away from. I am abstaining from processed foods and opting for whole foods whenever possible. Bringing potassium back into my diet will also have a positive effect on my blood pressure.

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