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How to Lower Your Blood Pressure in Just 1 Week

Doing this may shave 6 points off your systolic reading in 7 days

spinner image illustration of a salt shaker pouring salt onto a light blue background to reflect the importance of reducing salt intake for lower blood pressure
Tetiana Gutnyk / Getty Images

Before you sit down to your next meal and ask someone to pass the salt, consider this: A few shakes can have a significant impact on your blood pressure.  

New research finds that most older adults who cut about a teaspoon of salt from their daily diet — the equivalent of 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium — over the course of one week lowered their systolic blood pressure (the top number) by about 6 mm Hg, which is roughly the reduction many people see when they take a common medication for high blood pressure. The effect was even seen on people already taking blood-pressure-lowering drugs.

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The results indicate that lowering your blood pressure in a week can be done, says Deepak Gupta, M.D., lead author on the study, published in JAMA, and an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “And even small reductions — any reduction from the usual amount — can be beneficial.”  

‘Salt is everywhere’

Sodium’s role in blood pressure fluctuations is not a new revelation, says Maya Vadiveloo, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Rhode Island. Many people who have high blood pressure can tell you that cutting back on salt — and stress and sitting and smoking — is recommended to bring those numbers down. But this latest research “is a real addition” to our understanding, and it “adds fuel to discussions” on the amount of sodium in our food, Vadiveloo says.

Most Americans consume more than 3,400 mg of sodium per day, well over the recommended upper limit of 2,300 mg per day and the ideal amount of 1,500 mg per day, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). In fact, in this latest JAMA study, researchers found that most individuals were eating around 4,500 mg per day. Gupta says the vast majority of the sodium we consume is from packaged and prepared foods.

“Salt is everywhere,” Vadiveloo says, even lurking in places you might not expect — store-bought soups, breads, condiments and salad dressings. And, of course, your fast-food favorites and frozen pizzas are swimming in it.

Sodium makes your body hold on to water, Gupta explains. The extra water causes our blood vessels to expand, “creating more pressure on the blood vessels and raising blood pressure,” he says. Excess sodium also makes the heart pump harder, which causes your blood pressure to rise, the AHA says.

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Consistently elevated blood pressure increases risks for other health problems, including a heart attack or stroke. According to guidelines from the AHA, 120 to 129 mm Hg for systolic blood pressure is considered elevated; high blood pressure is defined as anything greater than 130/80 mm Hg. Nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Tips for reducing your sodium intake

For the study, Gupta and colleagues randomized study participants into two groups: One ate a high-sodium diet for a week, the other was on a low-sodium diet.

Researchers aimed to have the low-sodium group eat a diet totaling 500 mg of sodium per day. What was actually achieved was closer to 1,300 mg a day, with foods such as chicken salad, low-sodium frozen entrees, oatmeal and fresh fruit. After a week on the low-sodium diet, participants switched to a high-sodium diet, which was their usual diet plus 2,200 mg of sodium that they got from two chicken bouillon packets daily.

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For most participants, systolic blood pressure was lowered by 7 to 8 mm Hg when on the low-sodium diet compared with the high-sodium diet, and by about 6 mm Hg compared with their usual daily diet.

“The fact that blood pressure dropped so significantly in just one week and was well tolerated is important and emphasizes the potential public health impact of dietary sodium reduction in the population, given that high blood pressure is such a huge health issue worldwide,” coauthor Cora Lewis, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a news release.

As expected, when the participants added more sodium into their diet, their blood pressure went right back up. “It’s definitely something that changes quickly and rapidly, and so if you want to maintain [a lower blood pressure], you have to stick with it,” Gupta says.

Although that can be challenging in a society awash with high-sodium foods, Gupta says it’s doable. Many of the meals purchased for study participants came straight from grocery store shelves. They were just light on sodium or contained no added salt — so reading food labels is key, he says.

Another tip: Add more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet, Vadiveloo says. These foods can help fill you up, so you’re less likely to reach for a bag of chips. Plus, many fruits and veggies are high in potassium, which can help to lower blood pressure, “so you get the double bang for your buck,” Vadiveloo says. Similarly, calcium, which can be found in many green leafy vegetables, can lower blood pressure.  

Keep in mind that an effort to reduce your sodium intake “doesn’t have to be an all or none,” Gupta says. “If there’s any reduction in dietary sodium intake, that’s going to have a good impact on your blood pressure.”  

Video: 2 Surprising Things That Can Cause High Blood Pressure

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