Two potassium molecules are pulled into a cell, and three sodium molecules are pumped out. This is an endless cycle, with the net result that cells carry a slightly negative electrical charge. Biologically and physiologically, sodium intake alone does not regulate the sodium/potassium pump - potassium intake is important as well! While many studies have focused on high sodium content in the diet, it appears that problems with hypertension may be related more to an inappropriate ratio of sodium to potassium.
When monitoring sodium in the diet, it is important to consider two factors. The first factor already discussed is the ratio of sodium to potassium. In order to balance this ratio, it is important to eat whole, unprocessed foods and not to add excessive salt to meals. This will lower the amount of sodium in the diet. One should also increase the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed in order to increase potassium in the diet. The exact ratio is unknown, but research suggests that a 1:1 ratio is probably a good target. The typical American diet is more than a 5:1 ratio in favor of salt!
The second factor to consider is fluctuation of intake. Salt sensitivity is not sensitivity to salt in general. It is sensitivity to a drastic change of salt intake. If a person is taking 5 grams of sodium consistently, then suddenly goes on a low sodium diet, problems can occur with a radical shift in blood pressure. Similarly, someone on a "low sodium" diet who suddenly increases sodium intake may experience similar problems.
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