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MISLEADING! Sugar not primary cause of hypertension

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Claim: Sugar is more responsible for hypertension in people than salt.

MISLEADING! Sugar not primary cause of hypertension

Verdict: MISLEADING. Medical outlets and professionals all mention that both sugar and salt can equally cause high blood pressure in the body.

Full Text

High blood pressure (hypertension), according to the World Health Organisation, is when the pressure in the blood is too high (140/90 mmHg or higher). 

An X user, Callipigous Kemi (@AdekemiSaliu), asserted that high blood pressure in humans should be attributed mainly to sugar rather than salt.

“Hypertension is more of a sugar problem than salt. Salt isn’t the culprit. Sugar is,” her post reads.

The post is a reaction to a previous post made by X influencer Chinonso Egemba (@aproko_doctor), admonishing other social media users to minimise their salt intake because it causes high blood pressure. 

The assertion has attracted 348 comments, 994 retweets, 1,100 likes, and over one million views. It has been bookmarked 306 times since Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. 

Other users, however, expressed contradictory reactions to the assertion. 

Dr G The Frontliner (@iamSwaga22) reacted, noting the assertion is wrong. “Kemi (do) you know this is wrong?” he questioned. 

Edible Euphoria (@VickeysBatter), on the other hand, agreed with the assertion. In his words, “I totally agree.”

Due to the conflicting views generated by the post, DUBAWA decided to verify the assertion.

Verification

Healthline says there is a larger likelihood of suffering from hypertension due to old age, genetics, or health conditions. Secondary causes of hypertension include kidney disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and congenital heart defects.

Medical News Today and Cleveland Clinic also established the submissions by Healthline. 

Does sugar trigger high blood pressure (hypertension)?

According to Healthline, sugar is another factor that contributes to high blood pressure. The medical journal mentions that sugar in sweetened drinks causes weight gain in adults and children. Also, being overweight can trigger hypertension.

Arefa Cassoobhoy, a medical doctor, in her discussion for WebMD over the matter, stated that sugar, rather than salt, could be the “biggest cause” of high blood pressure. 

However, she allayed her audience’s fears by mentioning that the sugar referred to is not the one from fruits and vegetables. Rather, it is “added sugar,” commonly found in high fructose corn syrup. 

According to Mr Cassoobhoy, consuming 24 ounces of soda daily could trigger hypertension in a person. She further said that if 25 per cent of a person’s daily intake of calories is solely from added sugar, then such a person is susceptible to hypertension compared to another individual whose daily intake is just a lower 10 per cent. 

A registered dietician, Kate Patton, spoke to Cleveland Clinic and highlighted some of the negative effects of sugar on the heart. She noted that a diet high in sugar can “contribute to obesity.” According to her, such a condition elevates the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. 

The dietician who specialises in preventive cardiovascular nutrition emphasised that obesity is “tied to” sugar-laden food diets, which can hugely contribute to high blood pressure. 

What about salt?

According to Blood Pressure UK, salt causes the body to retain water. This further means that excess salt intake (through foods) would cause excess water to be stored in the blood, thereby placing pressure on the blood vessel wall. That consequently leads to high blood pressure. 

Blood Pressure UK also informs that the kidneys help discharge body fluid and waste products and control blood pressure. The kidneys collect excess blood fluid and channel it through the bladder. This is done through osmosis, whereby water travels away from the bloodstream, where sodium is low, to other areas of the body where it is high.

However, salt produces sodium in the body, and whenever it is taken in excess, it upsets the fine balance between sodium and water. This further overwhelms the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys. 

A Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health publication noted that the kidneys keep trying to regulate the amount of sodium in the body. As sodium accumulates in the body, the body, in turn, keeps more water to dilute it. However, that further increases the amount of fluid surrounding the body cells, as well as the volume of blood in the bloodstream. 

Also, increased blood volume in the body means more tasks for the heart and more pressure on the blood vessels. According to the publication, such accumulated tasks would only “stiffen” the blood vessels, which could further lead to high blood pressure.

Salt or sugar, which is the biggest contributor to hypertension?

Healthline mentions that while salty foods cause high blood pressure, sugary foods and foods saturated in fat increase a person’s risk of suffering from hypertension. 

According to the World Health Organisation, foods that contain high amounts of salt, as well as being overweight and obese (largely impacted by high-calorie foods), are responsible for hypertension. 

What experts say

In a conversation with a nutritionist and life coach, Temiloluwa Omotoso, she explained that the system has a water-to-sodium balance. When there is excess sodium in the system, there is always the need for balance. When there is an increase in sodium, the body’s water level will also be increased. Such a situation causes water retention. 

“When there is fluid retention in the body, it would increase the volume of the blood, and the increase in the volume of the blood would trigger an increase in pressure that the blood exerts on the wall of the vessels,” she established. 

Ms Omotoso further explained that, due to the pressure exerted on the walls of the blood vessels as a result of blood volume, the walls become narrowed over time.

Associating sugar with diabetes, she stated that the intake of added sugar increases insulin resistance in the body. She explained that while insulin helps transport glucose in the blood to the cells in the body, its deficiency would cause glucose to accumulate in the blood. That condition further causes high blood sugar levels in the body.

Meanwhile, in response to the issue, Bumi Ojo, a dietician at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, explained that whenever food is taken in, the carbohydrate content gets broken down into sugars, which enters the bloodstream. Also, when they are in the bloodstream, they become stuck, waiting for a hormone called insulin to transport it from the bloodstream to the cells where they are needed.

In a situation where the sugar does not leave the bloodstream (as a result of insulin deficiency), the blood vessels become thicker due to the concentration of the sugar. Ms Ojo further stated that the higher the concentration, the lower the blood flow, and vital organs that need the blood would begin to send signals to the heart. These signals would then cause the heart to increase blood pressure. The more the heart increases pressure on the blood flow, the higher the blood pressure is bound to be.

The dietician noted that sugar is not solely responsible for hypertension in the body, as it acts with other food components in the blood, such as sodium (salt) and fat.

The President of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Wasiu Afolabi, stated in a conversation with Punch newspaper on a related matter that excessive sugar could affect blood pressure. 

He explained that “because sugar is involved with salt as constituents of electrolytes of the body, especially glucose, so, if excessive sugar is consumed, it could also affect blood pressure in the body.”

Conclusion

The claim is misleading. While excess sugar is a contributor to high blood pressure, it is not the major food factor responsible for high blood pressure. Salt, too, can be equally responsible for such a condition in the body.

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