Do you need to cut back on sodium? Harvard Women's Health Watch answers

It makes sense for people with high blood pressure to cut back on the amount of sodium they consume, since blood pressure is directly related to sodium in the diet. But what about the rest of us? The November 2009 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch addresses this question and discusses ways to lower sodium intake.

Most of the sodium in our diet comes from salt, or sodium chloride. The body needs some sodium to transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscle fibers, and maintain proper fluid balance. The recommended daily sodium intake for healthy adults is no more than 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams (mg)—about the amount in two-thirds of a teaspoon to one teaspoon of table salt. But the average American gets 3,400 mg a day.

Some people are especially sensitive to sodium—their blood pressure rises and falls in response to sodium intake, putting them at increased risk for cardiovascular disease even if they don't have high blood pressure. Those most prone to salt sensitivity include the elderly, African Americans, and people with hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Others, though, aren't so sensitive to the effects of sodium.

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