Salt May Be Sweeter Than Sugar

High blood pressure and heart disease risk may be worsened by sugar, not salt

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Salt may be a little less sinister for patients with high blood pressure than once thought. And sugar may steal salt's spot on the list of blood pressure spikers.

A new study found that processed sugars may contribute more to high blood pressure and heart disease than salt.

Avoiding processed sugar, such as high fructose corn syrup in processed food, may bring your blood pressure down, said James J. DiNicolantonio, MD, of Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, MO.

"Try and eat real whole foods and avoid processed foods as much as possible," Dr. DiNicolantonio told dailyRx News. "Worry more about the added sugars, such as sucrose (also known as table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup."

Dr. DiNicolantonio co-wrote this study with Sean C. Lucan, MD, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY.

These researchers noted that many past studies on whether reducing sodium (salt) intake reduced blood pressure did not have impressive results — despite a common belief that salt intake was tied to blood pressure.

In their study, Drs. DiNicolantonio and Lucan found that sugar was the more likely contributor to high blood pressure.

Sugar doesn't just come from the table sugar people add to their coffee. A type of sugar called fructose is found in most processed foods, these researchers noted. High fructose corn syrup is often found in fruit drinks and soda and can be found in foods most households use regularly, such as ketchup.

Drs. DiNicolantonio and Lucan reviewed about 120 past studies on sugar and salt and their effect on blood sugar.

They found that, when people restricted their salt intake, their systolic (top number) blood pressure only went down by 4.8 points, and their diastolic (bottom number) pressure decreased by 2.5 points. According to the American Heart Association, a normal blood pressure is considered to be around 120 over 80 points.

These researchers also found that too little salt in the diet — less than 3 grams per day — could be unhealthy, leading to higher risks from heart disease, for instance.

In patients who ate a high-sugar diet — at least 33 percent of their total calories came from sugar — blood pressure rose by an average of 7.6 systolic points and 6.1 diastolic points, Drs. DiNicolantonio and Lucan found.

These researchers noted that taking in more than 74 grams per day of added sugars led to a 30 percent greater risk for a blood pressure higher than 140 over 90 points, and a 77 percent greater chance of having a blood pressure greater than 160 over 100 — compared to those who ate fewer than 74 grams per day.

Drs. DiNicolantonio and Lucan posed a theory about why sugar may have this effect on blood pressure. In past studies on rats fed table sugar, the rats’ sympathetic nervous systems were stimulated, leading to increased heart rates, sodium retention and heart problems. The sympathetic nervous system is that part of the body that goes into action when under stress. In this past research, the rats developed high blood pressure, the authors of the current study said. This process could be similar in humans, they said.

Patients can avoid many potentially harmful sugars by eating a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, Dr. DiNicolantonio said.

This study was published Dec. 10 in Open Heart.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.


Review Date: 
December 9, 2014
Last Updated:
March 12, 2015