Sensing salt sensitivity

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Sensing salt sensitivity

With nearly 87% of Indians genetically sensitive to salt, there is a dire need to regulate salt intake in every Indian household, advises Saleem Mohammed.

An individual’s genetic make up can be analyzed to understand factors like salt sensitivity, metabolic rate, ability to metabolize caffeine, and he likes. Salt is one of our oldest food seasonings and understandably a basic human taste. Not only is the taste attractive to humans, but is essential for human survival.

Salt is ingrained in Indian history too in more ways than one. The Salt Satyagraha, where Mahatma Gandhi led over 1,00,000 people in a march towards making one’s own salt free of paying tax to the ruling British is a momentous journey for India.

Salt is necessary for our body as it provides readily available forms of sodium and chloride, the most important electrolytes present in our cells. Reduction in these ions disturbs the whole body functioning and can even lead to other side effects like giddiness, headache, nausea and vomiting. Prolonged reduction in the sodium levels can be even fatal. In order to avoid such complications, every normal human being is advised to consume 6-8g (approx 1.5tsp) of salt per day.

Like many other foods and material, human consumption of salt in modern times has steadily increased through the years. Hypertension is one of the leading lifestyle disorders affecting people of different age groups, especially older adults. Scientists have already produced mounting evidence to show the relationship between salt intake and hypertension. Experimental demonstration of this relationship is seen not only in animals but in humans too. A significant percentage of patients with essential hypertension have evidence of salt-sensitivity as seen by a rise in blood pressure (BP) with salt loading and a reduction in BP with salt restriction. Interestingly, your genetics can play a role in this salt sensitivity making some of us different and unique in yet another way.

So what is salt sensitivity?

Not everyone requires to consume 6-8 grams of salt per day.  There exists a condition where human beings are highly sensitive to the salt (sodium) in their diet, which has a direct effect on increasing their blood pressure. People who are sensitive to salt have a higher tendency to develop hypertension. Such individuals would need to exercise strict control over their salt intake.

Responsible factors

Many studies have proven that the AGT (angiotensinogen) gene is associated with the salt sensitivity. Any abnormality in this gene makes the individual sensitive to salt and thus leads them to a higher risk of developing hypertension.

How can we overcome the ill effects of salt sensitivity?

Naturally, reducing the salt intake is the best way to overcome the salt sensitivity, as even small amounts of additional salt intake will increase your chance to become hypertensive. Salt intake should be maintained at 3 to 3.4g per day.

Some recommendations:

*  Avoid food items with excessive salt such as processed, baked, salt dried, pickled, canned, and fried foods.
* Avoid adding extra salt to your daily food.
*  On the first of every month reduce 10-20% of salt in your food. Mark your calendar and repeat this for 6 months. After 6 months you will be consuming 50% of what you used to consume and you will definitely feel better.
* Avoid eating restaurant food. Restaurants usually use salt as additional seasoning to bring out the flavours in the food. Using this to their advantage, they don’t set any upper limit.
* A very low sodium diet may even have adverse cardiovascular effects. However, moderate sodium restriction is safe and usually lowers high blood pressure and may prevent the onset of hypertension.

In a study conducted in India, it was seen that nearly 87% of the subjects were salt sensitive (i.e.) they were at a risk of developing hypertension even when they had a normal intake of 6-8g of salt per day. With over 80% of Indians genetically sensitive to salt, there is a dire need to regulate salt intake in every Indian household.

Our first step is to understand each of our family members’ individual and unique genetic makeup. Armed with this information, we can make medically recommended lifestyle changes to ensure a healthy and happy life.

(The writer is the CEO and co-founder of a bio-tech laboratory)


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