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City surgeon’s salt fight now focusing on Black America

Springfield doctor has gained national attention for his books, education efforts.

His own research has told Dr. Surender Neravetla that most Americans take the health dangers of high salt intake lightly.

Springfield Regional Medical Center’s director of cardiac surgery, however, takes it personally. And Neravetla has been on a crusade during the last seven years to expose the problem, one which has produced the release of two books on the topic in the past two years.

“We know about the dangers of smoking and of high-fat diets, but the effects of salt is nearly as bad,” said Neravetla. “It is the most widely ignored source of problems.”

It was so off the radar that even an accomplished heart surgeon like Neravetla wasn’t aware of it for most a career that has seen him treat Springfield area patients since the early 1980s.

“I have kind of stumbled on it, mostly because of my family history,” he said. “My father passed away from heart problems in the early 1970s. Almost everybody in the family, my side and my wife’s side, have high blood pressure and are taking medication. It is quite common among Indian families, just like it is here.

“(The people of India) don’t eat fat like people do in America, and they don’t smoke as much as people do here. So I wondered why is there still a high rate of heart disease? When I started looking in depth, it was connected to salt intake problems.”

Treating patients who are suffering from the effects of this problem has convinced Neravetla of one thing.

“People don’t really understand it, connect to it, or relate to it, so they don’t follow it,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is find ways to explain it a simply as possible, so that people can see themselves in this.”

Neravetla published his first book, “Salts Kills,” two years ago and started seriously researching it about “five years before that,” with the help of his son and wife. He has since received national notice for his work, meeting with officials from New York and Atlanta on how to incorporate salt education, doing radio shows in Philadelphia and San Francisco and being featured in a newspaper article in Naples, Fla.

”It’s very personal, not only for my my family, but for myself as well,” he said. “I know I would be on several medications right now if I wouldn’t have taken my own advice. I have many younger relatives on medications as proof.”

The problem is even more pronounced in a population Neravetla calls “Black America.” He addresses this in his recently released second book, “Salt: Black America’s Silent Killer.” In the book, Neravetla traced the problem back through history, when this population first came to this country.

“In the early days of slavery, Black Africans were literally packed in the boat, and many died because of dehydration,” he said. “Those who survived and were forced into slavery developed a built-in mechanism. So what helped them survive back in the beginning now is harming them. Now they are predisposed to salt sensitivity.”

The life expectancy of Black Americans is shorter than people in over 100 countries. “That’s really sad because our health system is one of the best in the world,” said Neravetla.

“Over 75 percent of the difference between the health of Black Americans vs. Caucasians comes purely from the fact Black Americans are salt sensitive,” he added. “This is commonly known in medical circles.”

Comparatively, prevention is inexpensive.

“We are spending billions of dollars on treatment of the problem, but we don’t spend hardly anything on the prevention side,” Neravetla said.

That money would be spent on awareness and education.

“The first step is to understand different ways our salt intake comes back to hurt you,” he said. “When you do, you will take steps to limit it.”

He called for help from other doctors and the media. “One or the other won’t help, we need help from both.”

Neravetla said using lime and lemon and herbs to substitute for salt is big help.

When intake is lowered, “Not only do you not crave it, you will reach the point where you don’t like it.”

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