High sodium and cardiovascular health: Auburn Kinesiology researcher receives $764K to study the role of sodium as a contributor to health disparities in African Americans

February 18, 2020

Austin Robinson HeadshotAuburn University School of Kinesiology Assistant Professor Austin Robinson received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study racial differences in sodium and blood pressure regulation. Robinson is researching why African Americans in particular are more likely to have diminished cardiovascular function after eating high amounts of dietary sodium. He will receive $764,093 over five years for the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Career Development Award on “Racial Differences in Serum Sodium and Blood Pressure Regulation.”

“I’m broadly interested in how nutrition and physical activity influence our blood vessel health,” Robinson said. “Most of what I research is peripheral blood vessels in the arms and legs and how nutrition affects that. This is important because blood vessel function controls our blood pressure and blood flow to all of our organs, like the kidneys and brain.”

For this particular award from NIH, Robinson will be studying the impacts of an acute, single meal. “We know African Americans have the highest prevalence of cardiovascular disease of any race or ethnic group in the country. We also know that black individuals are most likely to be salt sensitive. If they eat a high salt diet, they are more likely to experience an increase in blood pressure at rest,” he said. “The purpose of this grant is to determine why that is. If I could use my expertise to research health behaviors and lifestyle components that can contribute to these health disparities, that would be huge.”

His research goes beyond how high sodium intake can damage blood vessels—he’s also looking to see if people who regularly exercise and eat healthful diets are offered some protection against the high sodium feeding. “Nearly nine in 10 Americans consume too much sodium, but black individuals are more prone to salt-sensitive hypertension and experience adverse cardiovascular comorbidities associated with high dietary salt,” he said. “We want to determine if other lifestyle factors, such as habitual dietary patterns and physical activity, can curb some of the negative effects of a high salt diet and maybe reduce some of these health disparities.”

Robinson hopes to close that gap and ultimately be able to find conclusive information that can address the sodium and blood pressure regulation health disparity facing African Americans. He also hopes the research will pave the way for more grants so he can continue to study concepts like the potentially protective role of physical fitness or certain dietary compounds. For example, Robinson said, “I would look at dietary nitrate, which is primarily found in green leafy vegetables, to see if it offers protection from impaired blood vessel function caused by high sodium in comparison to a standard high sodium diet, which is low in vegetable consumption.”

Robinson’s lab will start collecting data for the current study in about one month. Those interested in learning more about the study can contact his lab.

For more information on Robinson and his research, follow him on Twitter at @AusRob_PhD or visit the Neurovascular Physiology Laboratory web page.


Miranda Nobles