High Blood Pressure and Salt Cravings

Does a big bag of pretzels sound great right now? Do you often have a craving for salty foods? Before you dismiss a strong love for salt as just a personal quirk, understand that sometimes salt cravings may actually be a sign of an undiagnosed medical problem. What is your body really telling you when it craves salt?

Your body balances salt and potassium levels with the help of your kidneys and aldosterone, a salt regulating hormone. Usually, this mechanism maintains the fine balance so that sodium and potassium levels never become too high or too low. However, some medications, particularly certain types of blood pressure medications, can tip this delicate balance and cause swings in potassium and sodium levels.

Sometimes, your body craves sodium due to a deficiency. This may happen after a long bout of vomiting or numerous rounds of diarrhea or with excessive sweating after intense exercise. When you get a sodium imbalance in this manner, it can be quickly corrected by eating salty foods or drinking an electrolyte-rich sport beverage. Certain medications, particularly diuretics used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, can cause a drop in sodium which can lead to salt cravings. Your body also craves salt when it's low in other trace minerals.

Hypertension and Salt Cravings

There has long been a link between high-salt diets and high blood pressure, but new research shows that those with the high blood pressure may have a much greater inclination for salty foods than those with normal blood pressure.

In a study of older adults, researchers in Brazil found that participants with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, favored bread topped with the highest concentration of salt more than twice as much as those with normal blood pressure. Adding other seasonings to the salted bread, however, diminished the preference for salt across both groups.

Are people with high blood pressure naturally drawn to salty foods, making them more prone to the condition? Researchers aren’t yet certain, but genetics could play a role.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed or published, and results are considered preliminary, so take it with just a grain of salt.

About a third of American adults have high blood pressure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about a billion people worldwide. The condition puts people at risk for heart disease, kidney damage, strokes and vision loss, among other health problems.

Some Diseases May Cause Salt Cravings

Some diseases such as hypothyroidism can also increase salt cravings. An even more serious cause of strong salt cravings is a disease called Addison's disease. This condition occurs when the adrenal glands that lie just above the kidneys don't produce enough cortisol or aldosterone. Because the drop in sodium levels can be profound with this condition, salt cravings can be very strong. Other symptoms commonly experienced with Addison's disease are lightheadedness, dizziness, muscle weakness, fatigue, excess skin pigmentation, and vomiting.

Hypertension places stress on other organs, including the heart, kidneys and eyes, causing them to deteriorate over time as well.

If your blood pressure is elevated, make lifestyle changes (lose weight, exercise, lower your salt intake) or take medication or both to lower it to below 120/80.

Active treatment of these risk factors through lifestyle modifications like smoking cessation and exercise, or medication, particularly early in life, may not only prevent stroke and heart disease but also preserve cognitive function.

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