Cut down on salt to support your gut bacteria, new study warns

It's no secret that Americans tend to eat a high-salt diet, something health officials have been encouraging the public to change in light of the associated health risks. Though eating large amounts of sodium is best known as a risky activity for people suffering from high blood pressure, a new study warns that it has an impact on beneficial gut bacteria, too.

Beneficial bacteria found in the gut and mouth have been linked to a number of positive health effects, including lowered blood pressure, improvements in inflammation, protective effects on brain health, lower risks of developing certain cancers, and more. At the same time, many studies have found that certain foods, dietary habits, and substances impair the gut microbiome, putting aspects of one's health at risk.

A study out of the Augusta University Medical College of Georgia found that adults, and particularly women, who reduced their sodium intake to improve high blood pressure also experienced improvements in gut bacteria health. The research involved 145 adults who all had untreated high blood pressure, each of whom was tasked with consuming around the recommended 2.3 grams of sodium per day.

After six weeks, the scientists noted that these participants had higher levels of short-chain fatty acids in their blood, which indicates that their gut bacteria had experienced health improvements. The reduction in dietary salt also resulted in lower blood pressure, the effect of which is at least partly due to the improvements in gut microbiome health.

All eight short-chain fatty acids were found to be higher in the blood of participants eating a low-salt diet, according to the study. The link between levels of SCFAs and both lowered blood pressure and increased blood vessel flexibility was consistent, the researchers say, with the most dramatic improvements being observed in female participants.