Reduce harm to the heart and overall health by reducing dietary salt intake

Health Care, Heart Care Foundation of India, Medicine Comments Off

People with hypertension should consume not more than 6 g of sodium chloride/day

New Delhi, 13th February 2019: Studies indicate that high salt intake can have detrimental effects on blood pressure. Over time, this can lead to hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. To lower the risk of developing a heart disease by 25% and that of mortality due to this by 20%, it is imperative to restrict dietary intake of salt. It is therefore an effective harm reduction strategy as also discussed in the first-ever harm reduction conference organized by the HCFI and IJCP on 30th January 2019 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.

As per recent figures by the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), salt intake among Indian adult Indians is high. It exceeds the levels recommended by the WHO. In Delhi and Haryana, it is 9.5 g per day and 10.4 g per day in Andhra Pradesh. This can be a risk factor especially in those with a family history of high blood pressure or heart disease.

Speaking about this, Padma Shri Awardee, Dr KK Aggarwal, President, HCFI, said, “The Indian diet is high in sodium and their salt consumption is one of the biggest contributing factors for non-communicable diseases. Excessive salt over time can cause irreparable damage to the kidneys as well. High salt intake also causes a rise in blood pressure, a condition known as hypertension. High blood pressure can harden the arteries, further decreasing the flow of blood and oxygen. An impairment in the flow of oxygen, to an organ such as your face, can cause your skin to dry and wrinkles faster which can make one look less youthful- not to mention the other health effects.”

An adult must not consume more than 5 g salt in a day, recommends the WHO. Researchers and policy-makers around the world stress on reducing salt intake to control hypertension because its key triggers— stress and faulty lifestyle—are difficult to control.

Adding further, Dr Maj Prachi Garg, Secretary IMA NDB said, “The terms salt and sodium are often used interchangeably; however, they mean different things. Salt comprises sodium and chloride. It is the sodium in salt that can be bad for your heart. While salt is essential for life, it is important to consume the right kind and maintain a proper salt-to-potassium ratio. It is noteworthy that more than 75% of the sodium we consume comes from packaged and restaurant foods.”

Some recommendations

  • Reduce salt intake as much as possible, lower the better. Add only normal amounts of salt when cooking or use alternatives to salt.
  • Preserved and packaged foods have maximum salt; reduce them as much as possible
  • Read the labels when shopping. Look for lower sodium in cereals, crackers, pasta sauces, canned vegetables, or any foods with low-salt options. Or, eat less processed and packaged foods.
  • Ask about salt added to food, especially at restaurants. Most restaurant chefs will omit salt when requested.
  • Remember the word ‘Na’, which is present in many drugs, soda etc.
  • Nothing can be preserved without adding salt to it, therefore beware of processed and frozen fruits.
  • Remember that it takes three months of a salt-free diet to get adjusted to it and ultimately start liking it.

Are chocolates the right gift for Valentine’s Day?

Health Care Comments Off

Chocolates have been forever associated with love and romance. Come Valentine’s Day, chocolates are much in demand. Beautifully packaged, they are a popular Valentine’s Day gift.

So, why are chocolates gifted as an expression of love?

To understand the reason for this is to know the chemistry of love because the neurochemistry of eating chocolates is the same as that occurs when a person falls in love.

Any relationship undergoes four major phases: Euphoria, reaction, adjustment and liking.

When two persons are attracted to each other, a virtual explosion of adrenaline-like neurochemicals occurs. Phenylethylamine, a naturally occurring amphetamine, speeds up the flow of information between nerve cells. Also, involved in chemistry are dopamine and norepinephrine, chemical cousins of amphetamines. Dopamine makes one feel good and norepinephrine stimulates the production of adrenaline, which makes the heart race. Together these three chemicals combine to produce “infatuation” the first stage of love, the feeling of euphoria and floating on air.

Phenylethylamine mediates feelings of attraction, excitement, giddiness, apprehension and euphoria associated with falling in love. Hence, it is also called the “love chemical”. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine and this is one reason it is often used by persons embarking on a new relationship.

The caffeine and theobromine in chocolate are both stimulants and may at least partly be the reason as to why chocolate is so addictive.

Chocolate triggers the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which bring on a feeling of well-being. They can also bring about feelings of euphoria. Serotonin is also released when chocolate is eaten, which makes a person more calm and happier. Chocolate contains tryptophan, which produces serotonin.

Chocolate also contains anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid in the brain, which helps to stimulate and open synapses in the brain and facilitates easy transmission of the “feel good” waves. Anandamide was discovered in 1992 and has been named after “ananda”, the Sanskrit word, which means joy, bliss and so has been called the “bliss molecule”.

Remember, most chocolates are high in calories, fat and free sugars; dark chocolate contains 48 g sugar, white chocolate 59 g, Hershey’ Milk Chocolate Bar 43 g, Snickers Bar 57 g, Dairy milk 56 g, Munch 27.5 g, Gems 60 g (all per 100 g). Therefore, moderation is the key.

Dark chocolates have been shown to prevent cancer, improve heart health and cognition, lower blood pressure. These beneficial effects are attributed to polyphenols and flavonoids (antioxidants) in cocoa. Dark chocolate mainly contains cocoa (more than 60%) and cocoa butter, sugar and does not contain milk or milk.

But, those who have heartburn should avoid chocolates as they can worsen the heartburn (dyspepsia), a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux. The American College of Gastroenterology (Am J Gastroenterol. 2005;100:190-200) has listed chocolate as one of the foods that may trigger GERD symptoms by decreasing the lower esophageal sphincter pressure.

Cocoa in chocolate is acidic; caffeine and theobromine in the chocolate relax the lower esophageal sphincter causing acid reflux and aggravating the symptoms.

Dr KK Aggarwal

Padma Shri Awardee

President Elect Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO)

Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications

President Heart Care Foundation of India

Past National President IMA