Cutting Back on Sodium Can Solve More than One Problem

November 1, 2016 in Food and the Brain, Health, Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

Last week I wrote about the risk of death and high sodium intake; I mostly concentrated on the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular events. I made one little mention that Alzheimer’s disease risk is also associated with high blood pressure; but I don’t want to pass over this issue too quickly.

It seems to me that many of us are horribly anxious about the possibility of losing our cognitive functions – I know I am. My paternal grandmother was lost to that disease – it’s a slow way to lose a loved one.

Every day it seems like researchers are learning things that we can actually do to decrease our risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have known about the link between blood pressure and Alzheimer’s for years. But like so many issues, it’s not perfectly clear.

One issue that seems pretty clear is that high blood pressure can damage small blood vessels in the brain, and that affects parts of the brain responsible for thinking and memory. A recent study at Johns Hopkins, published in Neurology confirmed earlier work that found the use of potassium-sparing diuretics reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s. It’s not a small percent – there was nearly 75 percent reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in those that took potassium-sparing diuretics (it reduces blood pressure by helping you you lose water -- but without flushing out potassium). In addition, those who took any type of antihypertensive (not just the potassium-sparing type) lowered their risk by about 33 percent. If the people in the study were taking any blood pressure medication, they were less likely to develop dementia. And if they had Alzheimer’s disease, it was less likely to progress if they took the medication. While I was reading for this article, I noticed that the lead researcher, Constantine Lyketsos, M.D. at Johns Hopkins has done a huge body of work on the subject. I sure hope he keeps going until he’s blessed with more answers about this horrible disease.

One of the issues on this subject that is not very clear is that the goals for optimal blood pressure differ with age. As people age, if their blood pressure goes too low (lower than normal (diastolic, less than or equal to 70mm Hg) then that can actually increase their risk of Alzheimer’s. That seems a little confusing, but lots of substances, natural and not so natural, are not harmful in moderation but are in excess and also if not enough. Blood pressure is affected by many factors that may have this pattern of action. The best thing is to consult with your doctor about the best target for you.

If you realize that your blood pressure is too high, then one of the action items that you can embrace is taking some of the sodium out of your diet. Yes, exactly the same as protecting yourself from a stroke or other cardiovascular events. Turn to last week’s article Sodium and Death Risk.