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Rethinking salt: Can too little raise heart disease risk?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Cutting back on salt could have health risks that have not been studied.

A new study poses an interesting question about the health dangers of consuming salt that is sodium chloride. According to researchers from University of Glasgow we may be doing some harm to our bodies without the chloride constituent in salt.

Food producers and consumers have all been cautioned that reducing our sodium intake will lower our risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart and kidney disease.

But according to study results that are published in the journal Hypertension, chloride in salt just might be important for lowering overall mortality and cardiovascular disease risks.

For their study the researchers investigated data from almost 13,000 patients with high blood pressure who followed up over 35 years, finding that low chloride levels were associated with a higher risk of death and heart disease.

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People whose chloride level was the lowest had a 20 percent higher chance of dying and cardiovascular disease.

Sandosh Padmanabhan of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences said in a press release: "Sodium is cast as the villain for the central role it plays in increasing the risk of high blood pressure, with chloride little more than a silent extra in the background."

The study authors say there has been more focus on sodium in salt, but little attention has been paid to the importance of chloride.

Just like sodium, chloride is an electrolyte that is important for optimal cellular function. The electrolyte plays an important role for aiding digestion. But salt isn't the only dietary means of getting enough chloride in our diet. The electrolyte is also found in many vegetables and in rye bread. Olives, lettuce and tomatoes are good sources of chloride.

"It is too early to draw any conclusions about relating this finding to salt intake and diet. We need more research to establish exactly what the relationship between chloride and health risk is," Padmanabhan added.

The best way to know if your body has enough sodium or chloride if you are on a salt restricted diet is to keep your regular doctor visits. Speak with your physician. A simple blood test can ensure you are eating the right foods to keep your body in balance.