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New research to determine link between high blood pressure and gut health

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New research to determine link between high blood pressure and gut health

Media release: 16 May, 2023

World Hypertension Day 2023

New research funded by the Heart Foundation will investigate whether poor gut health is a cause of high-blood pressure.

If found to be the case, the research could pave the way for new treatments that will help thousands more Australians lower their blood pressure and reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke.

The study is being led by Dr Matthew Snelson at Monash University who suspects that people with high blood pressure have a so-called ‘leaky gut’ – where the gut is too permeable and allows bad microbes to pass into the bloodstream, leading to inflammation.

Dr Snelson hypothesises that in patients with resistant hypertension (high blood pressure that does not respond to medication) that their guts are even ‘leakier’ still.

The research is based on emerging evidence in animal models that show the potential for leaky gut to be a cause of high-blood pressure.

“If we measure leaky gut in people and determine that this is the case for them too, we can look at new gut-targeted treatment options,” Dr Snelson said.

“We have six metres of gut and around a tennis court’s worth of surface area in the gut. With proper understanding we can then open the door to a new treatment paradigm for hypertension that could help people resistant to medication to lower their blood pressure and avoid a heart attack or stroke.”

Advice for now is to eat well and give salt the shake

Today is World Hypertension Day and the Heart Foundation is urging Australians to get their blood pressure measured, eat well, move more – and give salt the shake.

High blood pressure is a health issue that affects both young and old Australians alike, with close to 6 million Australians (34%) aged 18 years and over with high blood pressure.

Alarmingly, it’s one of the leading risk factors for death and disability in Australia, as well as across the world.

Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.

“One the easiest steps you can take to prevent high blood pressure is choosing healthy foods and reducing your salt intake,” said Heart Foundation senior dietitian Jemma O’Hanlon.

“The foods we choose every day are important for our heart health. Research into high blood pressure shows us that the foods we consume can help to lower and manage high blood pressure.”

Other health risks associated with eating too much salt include kidney disease, stroke, and fluid retention.

How much salt should I have per day?

The  Heart Foundation recommends a daily maximum intake of 5g of salt (2000mg sodium), which is about a teaspoon. Studies have shown that most Australians are eating roughly 9g of salt a day, which is nearly double the recommended maximum.  

It is important to remember that all types of salt, including pink Himalayan, rock salt, black salt, table salt and sea salt contain about the same amount of sodium. Sodium is the part of salt that can be damaging to health.

Salt is hidden in our processed and packaged foods – so what foods are high in salt?

Processed and packaged foods are responsible for most of the salt people eat. You may find this surprising, as some of these foods don’t even taste salty. 

Foods that significantly contribute to high levels of sodium in your diet include: 

  • Sauces, condiments, processed takeaway foods and instant noodles
  • Processed meats like ham, bacon and sausages
  • Salty snacks like potato crisps and savoury biscuits

How do I reduce salt in my diet?

Salt reduction can be achieved by incorporating the following practices into your daily eating habits.

Eat more veggies:

The best way to reduce the salt in your diet is to base your diet around fresh and unprocessed foods, particularly vegetables and fruit. These foods are naturally low in salt and can help improve heart health.

Emerging research also shows that potassium can help to counteract the effect of salt. Potassium is found in fruit and vegetables.

Use herbs and spices instead of salt:

Add extra flavour to food during cooking with a variety of delicious herbs and spices. These can also replace your salt shaker on the dining table.

Cook at home:

Take-away food and food bought out of the home are often high in salt. Preparing and cooking your food is a good way to reduce salt as you are in control of how much salt is added and can choose ingredients reduced in salt.

Read labels:

Many packaged and processed foods contain hidden salt, so it’s important to read the label and find out how much is inside. On the nutrition information panel, look at the “per 100g” column to compare products and try to choose an option with lower sodium content.

Tip: If you are short on time, look for foods labelled ‘low salt’ ‘salt reduced’ or ‘no added salt’. 

Maintaining a healthy salt intake for life

People with a salty diet have often simply developed a taste for it. As you reduce the amount of salt used in your food, you’ll notice other flavours emerge. Remember that your taste buds will adapt over time and after a few months, you probably won’t notice the lack of salt anymore.

  1. Camilleri M. Leaky gut: mechanisms, measurement and clinical implications in humans. Gut. Aug 2019;68(8):1516-1526. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2019-318427
  2. Richards EM, Li J, Stevens BR, Pepine CJ, Raizada MK. Gut Microbiome and Neuroinflammation in Hypertension. Circ Res. Feb 4 2022;130(3):401-417. doi:10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.121.319816
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. High blood pressure. 2019.
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Burden of Disease Study 2018: Interactive data on risk factor burden. 2021. contents/high-blood-pressure
  5. Salt and sodium. Health Direct.
  6. Aminde LN, Wanjau MN, Cobiac LJ, Veerman JL. Estimated Impact of Achieving the Australian National Sodium Reduction Targets on Blood Pressure, Chronic Kidney Disease Burden and Healthcare Costs: A Modelling Study. Nutrients. Jan 9 2023;15(2)doi:10.3390/nu15020318
  7. Sea salt vs. table salt. American Heart Association. living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/sea-salt-vs-table-salt
  8. Newberry SJ, Chung M, Anderson CAM, et al. Sodium and Potassium Intake: Effects on Chronic Disease Outcomes and Risks. 2018. AHRQ Comparative Effectiveness Reviews. Last updated: [18 December 2023]

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