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dose-response evidence comes from those clinical trials that specifically examined the effects of at least three levels of sodium intake on blood pressure. The range of sodium intake in these studies varied from 0.23 g (10 mmol)/day to 34.5 g (1,500 mmol)/day. Several trials included sodium intake levels close to 1.5 g (65 mmol) and 2.3 g (100 mmol)/day.

While blood pressure, on average, rises with increased sodium intake, there is well-recognized heterogeneity in the blood pressure response to changes in sodium chloride intake. Individuals with hypertension, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease, as well as older-age persons and African Americans, tend to be more sensitive to the blood pressure-raising effects of sodium chloride intake than their counterparts.2 Genetic factors also influence the blood pressure response to sodium chloride. There is considerable evidence that salt sensitivity is modifiable. The rise in blood pressure from increased sodium chloride intake is blunted in the setting of a diet that is high in potassium or that is low in fat, and rich in minerals; nonetheless, a dose-response relationship between sodium intake and blood pressure still persists. In nonhypertensive individuals, a reduced salt intake can decrease the risk of developing hypertension (typically defined as systolic blood pressure ≥140 mm Hg or diastolic blood pressure ≥ 90 mm Hg).

The adverse effects of higher levels of sodium intake on blood pressure provide the scientific rationale for setting the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL). Because the relationship between sodium intake and blood pressure is progressive and continuous without an apparent threshold, it is difficult to precisely set a UL, especially because other environmental factors (weight, exercise, potassium intake, dietary pattern, and alcohol intake) and genetic factors also affect blood pressure. For adults, a UL of 2.3 g (100 mmol)/day is set. In dose-response trials, this level was commonly the next level above the AI that was tested. It should be noted that the UL is not a recommended intake and, as with other ULs, there is no benefit to consuming levels above the AI.


In research studies, different techniques and quantitative criteria have been used to define salt sensitivity. In general terms, salt sensitivity is expressed as either the reduction in blood pressure in response to a lower salt intake or the rise in blood pressure in response to sodium loading. Salt sensitivity differs among subgroups of the population and among individuals within a subgroup. The term “salt sensitive blood pressure” applies to those individuals or subgroups who experience the greatest change in blood pressure from a given change in salt intake—that is, the greatest reduction in blood pressure when salt intake is reduced.


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