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Scientists isolate gene linked to appetite for salt

Health & Science

EDINBURGH: New research from the University of Edinburgh sheds light on the role genes play in why some people crave salty food, a press release from the university revealed on Tuesday.

The study helps researchers understand how the brain controls the appetite for salt, and how it impacts on blood pressure levels, said the press release.

Scientists modified mice to remove a gene in a small number of cells in their brains. The gene is known to be linked with high blood pressure in humans but how it is controlled is unclear, said the press release.

Removing the gene caused the mice to develop a strong appetite for salt, and when offered a choice of normal drinking water or saltwater, they consumed three times more saltwater than unmodified mice.

The trial also showed that the modified mice went on to experience high blood pressure for as long as they drank saltwater. When the saltwater was removed their blood pressure returned to normal.

The findings suggest the gene plays an important role in controlling both the appetite for salt, and its effect in raising blood pressure, according to scientists.

The team will now research whether an affordable drug, already used to treat heart disease in some countries, can help to bring salt intake under control in patients with heart failure.

Matthew Bailey, who led the study at the University of Edinburgh/BHF (The British Heart Foundation) Center for Cardiovascular Science, said: "In the United Kingdom we routinely eat much more salt than our bodies need. For most people this is bad for our heart, blood vessels and kidneys. Our study shows that we have a genetic drive to consume salty food. Understanding how this process works may help us reduce the amount of salt we eat and make it easier for people to follow low-salt diets."

The results have been published in the American journal Circulation.

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