A specialized low-sodium diet can lower hypertension and improve heart function in patients with a common type of heart failure, according to research presented at the Heart Failure Society of America meeting in Florida.

The study showed that participants who followed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension eating plan for 21 days saw a drop in blood pressure similar to people taking anti-hypertension medicine.

 In the study, heart failure patients, most of them in their 60s and 70s, agreed to keep food diaries and eat only the meals prepared for them in the metabolic kitchen at the University of Michigan Clinical Research Unit. The meals matched the DASH diet eating plan, which is high in potassium, magnesium, calcium and antioxidants, and is recommended for hypertension treatment by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.

 ­­­The diet also contains a daily sodium intake of no more than 1,150 milligrams, which is lower than the 1,500-milligram a day level recommended by the AHA and much lower than the 3,300-milligrams a day that women in the U.S. usually eat and the 4,200-milligrams a day that men in the U.S. usually eat.

 Doctors have long known that the low-sodium DASH diet can lower blood pressure in salt-sensitive patients, but the most-recent research indicates that the diet may also encourage a more efficient transfer of blood between the heart and arteries for heart failure patients.

Before making any major dietary changes, patients should always consult their doctor.

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