It’s World Hypertension Day! It is observed on May 17 every year to help raise awareness about high blood pressure, how it can be prevented and managed.
In the last five years the theme has been ‘Know Your Numbers’ with the goal of increasing high blood pressure (BP) awareness globally. But this year’s commemoration has as theme: “Measure Your Blood Pressure, Control It, Live Longer.”
— WHO African Region (@WHOAFRO) May 17, 2020
What is blood pressure?
The heart pumps blood which is circulated throughout the body via blood vessels. Blood pressure is the force or pressure with which the blood pushes against the walls or sides of the blood vessels as it flows through them.
Normal blood pressure stands at about 120/80 mm Hg. When one has high blood pressure, it means that the force with which the blood is pumping in their body/blood vessels is very strong. This force puts a lot of pressure on the arteries and heart. If not managed, it can lead to a heart attack or a stroke and can even be fatal.
Salt as the culprit
Salt is made of 40% sodium and 60% chloride. It is the chloride which is often the culprit behind hypertension. The relationship is directly proportional – higher the intake of salt, higher the blood pressure. The combination of sodium and chloride also upsets the delicate balance of compounds in the body.
Take the example of the blood vessels near the kidneys. Potassium and sodium are both used to pull extra water into the kidney through the process of osmosis. The water is then removed from the body in the form of urine. However, if the sodium content is higher in the body, the ability to absorb the water into the kidney becomes hampered. When this happens a lot of pressure is put on the blood vessels around the kidneys and causes blood pressure to spike.
Similarly, when the arteries leading up to the heart are narrowed, the amount of blood flowing through them is reduced. The arteries get strained to ensure adequate blood is reaching the heart. Therefore, blood pressure spikes. This initially makes you feel pains and then in more severe cases heart attacks happen.
What to do
A reduction in salt intake by two grams per day for 18 months can lead to a 35% reduction in the incidence of hypertension. For individuals who already have elevated blood pressure, a reduction of 4.6 g/d of salt can help reduce blood pressure by 5.06/2.70 mm Hg.
Just ensure that you track your salt intake (reduce it if required) and walk for at least 30 minutes every day. You will gradually begin to see positive changes in your body.
Amaka E. Nliam