The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effects of the level of salt intake on endothelium-derived factors in a group of patients with essential hypertension. A group of 50 patients with essential hypertension who had never been treated for the condition were placed on a low-sodium (50 mmol/day), low-nitrate (400 µmol/day) diet, which was supplemented, in a single-blind fashion, with placebo tablets for the first 7 days and then with NaCl tablets (200 mmol/day) for a further 7 days (total sodium intake 250 mmol/day). At the end of both periods, 24-h ambulatory blood pressure monitoring was performed. In addition, plasma levels and 24-h urinary excretion of nitrites plus nitrates and cGMP were measured, along with plasma levels of endothelin. A high salt intake promoted significant decreases in plasma levels of nitrites plus nitrates (from 41.0±2.1 to 32.8±1.8 nmol/ml; P < 0.001), 24-h urinary nitrate excretion (from 417±36 to 334±37 µmol/24 h; P = 0.045) and plasma endothelin levels (from 5.6±0.3 to 4.6±0.3 pg/ml; P = 0.007). The plasma concentration and 24-h urinary excretion of cGMP were not altered significantly by a high salt intake. We did not find any relationship between endothelium-derived products and 24-h mean blood pressure, at either low or high salt intakes, or between changes induced by the high-salt diet. A high salt intake also induced significant decreases in plasma renin activity, angiotensin II and aldosterone, and a significant increase in atrial natriuretic peptide. We conclude that a high salt intake decreases the plasma concentration and urinary excretion of nitrates and plasma levels of endothelin in patients with essential hypertension, suggesting that the level of salt intake may affect endothelial cell function. However, these alterations are not correlated with changes in blood pressure induced by the high salt intake.

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