You know that too much sodium in your diet can lead to high blood pressure, called hypertension, but what if your problem is the opposite? Blood pressure that's too low, a condition known as hypotension, can be a cause for concern. In that case, could having more salt be the answer?
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Hypotension is fairly common, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Symptoms of low blood pressure include dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea and blurred vision. You might even faint.
There are actually different types of hypotension. For instance, orthostatic hypotension is when your blood pressure drops when you stand up or change positions suddenly. It's common in pregnancy. Neutrally mediated hypotension is a type that happens to some people, mostly children and young adults, after they've been exercising strenuously or standing for long periods of time, the Cleveland Clinic states.
Your blood pressure also can go too low if you take certain medications, such as diuretics, according to the American Heart Association.
Most causes of low blood pressure are not related to diet. "If you have low blood pressure, it's likely a medical problem and you're not going to change it by what you eat," says Jennifer Cholewka, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition coordinator at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City. "You should talk to your doctor about the best way to medically manage your low blood pressure."
However, there's one type of low blood pressure, called postprandial hypotension, that may respond to dietary changes. Postprandial hypotension is most common in older people, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Experts at Harvard Health Publishing say some people are genetically predisposed to postprandial hypotension. This type of low blood pressure also can be caused by a stroke, accident or other trauma.
The Role of Salt
When you eat, extra blood is sent to help your digestive system break down food. To help keep your blood pressure on an even keel, your blood vessels narrow and your heart steps up to pump blood throughout your body. If you're older, your body may not manage these changes as well. It can make you more susceptible to a post-meal blood pressure drop, according to Harvard.
If postprandial hypotension is an issue for you, the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Health offer tips to prevent it:
Salt it. You're probably afraid to add salt to your food because you've been repeatedly told that excess salt is dangerous. It can lead to heart attack, stroke and heart failure, especially in older adults, according to the American Heart Association. But if you have low blood pressure, extra salt may be a good thing. However, if you are older, talk to your doctor before you add salt to your diet.
"Sodium levels tend to increase as we age," says Sonya Angelone, RDN, CLT, a nutrition consultant in San Francisco, California, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Hydrate. If you become dehydrated, your blood pressure can go even lower. Drink a glass of water about 15 minutes before you eat and drink some water during and after your meal to keep your blood flowing more easily throughout your body.
Eat fewer processed carbs. Foods made of simple sugars pass through your body faster than those made of more complex carbohydrates. Simple sugar foods include white potatoes, white rice, white pasta and white bread. More complex carbs include whole grains, beans and other legumes.
Eat small. Switch from eating three large meals a day to having smaller, more frequent meals spread throughout the day. The less you eat at one time, the less stress you'll put on your digestive system. Less extra blood has to flow to your stomach and intestines to digest your meal.
If you have low blood pressure, work with your doctor on all steps to take to protect yourself, including monitoring your pressure at home.
Read more: Exercising When You Have Low Blood Pressure
Is This an Emergency?
- Cleveland Clinic: “Low Blood Pressure (Hypotension)”
- Jennifer Cholewka, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition coordinator, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City
- Mayo Clinic: “Low Blood Pressure”
- American Heart Association: “Low Blood Pressure: When Blood Pressure Is Too Low”
- American Heart Association: “Health Threats from High Blood Pressure”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Eating Can Cause Low Blood Pressure”
- Sonya Angelone, RDN, CLT, nutrition consultant, San Francisco, California; spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics