Silent but Deadly

Silent but deadly AND caused by mass consumption of bean burritos? No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I’m referring to high blood pressure (aka hypertension), the real silent killer. DUN DUN DUN!

68 million people in the United States have high blood pressure. There are 313,682,908 people in America (Census). So, 68 million is quite significant. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 adults have hypertension.

High blood pressure is a major health concern because it leads to heart attack and stroke, which are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. “In 2008 alone, hypertension was a primary or contributing cause for death more than 347,000 Americans. High blood pressure is also a major risk factor for other diseases such as congestive heart failure and kidney disease.” (CDC). So, hypertension is pretty much the root of all evil health problems.

early cuff sphygmomanometer, 1904. image source: antique scientifica

What does high blood pressure really mean? Blood pressure measures the “force of blood pushing against artery walls” as it circulates throughout the body. Imagine pumping air into a tire. Too much air pressure can damage the tire. Similarly, high blood pressure can damage arteries.

120/80 or lower is normal blood pressure (BP). 120 is the systolic BP and 80 is the diastolic BP.

  • Systolic BP: Pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. This is when blood is being pushed through the arteries.
  • Diastolic BP: Pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats.

140/90 or higher is high blood pressure. So, you better check yo self before you wreck yo self.

Can somebody NOT pass the salt, please? Eating too much sodium increases the risk for developing hypertension. The average American consumes 3,300 mg of sodium per day (CDC). That’s twice the recommended limit for most adults. “The Institute of Medicine recommends 1500 mg of sodium per day as the Adequate Intake level for most Americans and advises everyone to limit sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day, the Tolerable Upper Limit” (CDC).

Photo by Alyssa Llamas

Reducing sodium intake can reduce blood pressure. Decreasing sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day could prevent 11 million cases of hypertension each year, explains the CDC. Resist the urge to add salt to your (probably) already salty food.

Whats the difference between “salt-free” and “unsalted” or “low sodium” and “less sodium”? Is there a difference? Don’t be fooled by food labels! Use this guide, courtesy of Mayo Clinic, to decode sodium content:

  • Sodium-free or salt-free. < 5 mg of sodium/serving, So, technically, it’s not salt-free.
  • Very low sodium. ≤ 35 mg of sodium/serving
  • Low sodium. ≤ 140 mg of sodium/serving
  • Reduced or less sodium. 25% less sodium than the regular version. Check the label to see how much sodium is in a serving.
  • Lite or light in sodium. 50% less sodium than the regular version. Check the label to see how much sodium is in a serving.
  • Unsalted or no salt added. No salt is added during processing of a food that normally contains salt. However, some foods with these labels may still be high in sodium because some of the ingredients may be high in sodium. Sneaky, sneaky!

If you’re interested in the biology of sodium’s effect on the body, then check out Livestrong‘s Why Does Sodium Increase Blood Pressure?

Here are some tips from the CDC on how to maintain a normal blood pressure:

  • Have your blood pressure checked and then monitor it regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Watch your alcohol intake (fewer than two drinks per day for men, or one drink per day for women).
  • If you have been prescribed blood pressure medication, take it as directed.
  • If you have trouble with side effects, talk to your healthcare professional about other medications you can try.

image source: LOLCATS

On a less serious and very much smelly note, enjoy these FARTASTIC posts from Thought Catalog:


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