Stress, Salt Retention and High Blood Pressure in Black America

- Mar• 05•14


Have you heard of white coat syndrome? The simple anxiety inherent in seeing a doctor can drive your blood pressure higher. Those of us in the medical arena see this commonly, which is why we encourage everybody—especially patients with high blood pressure—to record their blood pressure at home before a doctor’s visit. (For more information about how to get the best out of your next doctor’s visit, please check out the “Dos & Don’ts” chapter in my new book Salt: Black America’s Silent Killer.)

We’ve known for eons that stress raises blood pressure. The fact that Black Americans as a rule routinely experience a more difficult, stressful state than many other Americans is also common knowledge. So it should come as no surprise that any number of well-meaning Black American colleagues and acquaintances, aware of the toll that skyrocketing blood pressure takes on Black Americans’ health, do not look any further than stress when identifying the main culprit . Then they throw up their hands in defeat.  

Given the dismal socio-economic condition of Black America, it is hard argue otherwise. But an eye-opening 2007 study reported in the Ethnicity & Disease journal actually found that a good part of stress-related health injury among Black Americans actually occurs because of high salt sensitivity.

In this study, 190 teenagers almost equally divided into Caucasian and Black Americans were placed in a stressful state. The researchers then recorded their blood pressure as well as their sodium excretion. Surprisingly, the Black Americans teens retained as much as 160 mg more sodium than the White American teens and their blood pressure rose by as much as 7mm within the 10-minute period of stress exposure.

Even more alarming, the Black American youths’ blood pressure did not return to prior-to-the-study levels even after the teens were no longer exposed to the short-lived stress that originally triggered the rise.

Given the long list of health problems caused by high blood pressure, you can see what an important role salt sensitivity plays in the dismal health of Black Americans. I want to plead again to Black Americans and anybody who is interested in the health of Black America. While the long-standing battle to better Black America’s health continues, let us join forces to find ways to educate the stakeholders about the benefits of cutting back on salt.

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