Salt: Take it or leave it?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Salt and health studies confuse the public.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) challenges the notion that salt increases the risk of cardiovascular disease but most evidence shows too much sodium in the diet can be dangerous for heart health.

Salt study raises debate about limiting intake

In the current study, researchers followed 3681 participants followed up for an average of 7.9 years, finding the chances of hypertension did not increase for individuals with high levels of sodium excretion in the urine, raising some debate about the importance of curbing salt intake.

Among the study group, 1,429 were accurately tested and did not have a history of high blood pressure at the start of the analysis.

The study also failed to include African-American, Asians and other high risk groups.

In the study, the participants were young and the follow-up time may have been too short to measure outcomes accurately.

Salt sensitivity

It might be important to take into account individuals with salt sensitivity before getting too lavish with the salt shaker, boxed foods and salt laden canned produce.

In 2001, the NIH published findings that men, women and African-Americans with sensitivity to sodium are at high risk for heart attack, stroke and death.

The study, “Salt Sensitivity, Pulse Pressure, and Death in Normal and Hypertensive Humans,” appeared in the "Council Supplement issue of Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association" and was conducted by researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

NHLBI Director Dr. Claude Lenfant warned, “People who have normal blood pressure but are salt sensitive should take action to protect their health.”


The study looked at the effect of sodium intake and death risk over a 25 year period. Forty-five percent of the participants were salt sensitive and 21 percent died. Only those with normal blood pressure and no sensitivity to salt fared well.

It’s no wonder Americans are confused about what to eat and even what to drink, highlighted in a recent release from the American Heart Association,. In the release, the AHA noted :

“Excessive sodium can increase blood pressure in some people, increasing the risk of heart diseases and stroke.”

The new study serves to confuse the public even further, as might the above statement, when it comes to understanding how much sodium in the diet is too much and who are the "some people" at risk for heart disease from excess.

According to the Salt Institute, the entire notion of limiting sodium is unfounded and unscientific. Given the new findings, combined with past studies, the Institute asks the government “ stop their population-wide sodium reduction agenda and amend the Dietary Guidelines on sodium.”

Understand your personal health history, monitor your blood pressure and engage in regular checkups and blood testing to cut risk of disease.

Sorting out salt

Speak with your physician about personal risk factors for heart disease and stroke. It may be important to discuss the newest salt study with your health care provider, understanding that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to managing health.

There is no question those with existing hypertension and heart disease need to limit sodium in the diet.

Knowing your blood pressure numbers, cholesterol level, kidney function, blood sugar level and discussing the hazards or benefits of sodium in the diet with your health care provider may be the best way to sort out confusion.

The best evidence to date does show excessive sodium intake can increase the chances of high blood pressure and risk for cardiovascular disease, at least for the majority of the US population. The new study, as well as several past studies, suggest otherwise.



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