Are We Eating Too Little Salt?


People who eat the least salt may be hurting their hearts, according to a study causing controversy amid efforts to cut sodium consumption.

Hypertension is the most common modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and death. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 1 billion adults have hypertension, that this figure is projected to climb to 1.5 billion by the year 2025, and that hypertension accounts for more than 9 million deaths annually. Because of its high prevalence and related death statistics, population-wide approaches to reducing blood pressure, and therefore the burden of cardiovascular disease, have been recommended. Among these strategies, reducing dietary sodium and, to a lesser extent, increasing dietary potassium have been included in many guidelines for the treatment of hypertension and prevention of cardiovascular disease. However, recent studies have raised questions about potential adverse effects associated with low sodium intake on important health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease and death.

The results published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine found the expected link between heart complications and high levels of sodium, which is known to boost blood pressure and cardiovascular risks. Those at the lowest end, as measured by the amount of sodium in their urine, were also at greater risk – a 27 percent increased chance of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular causes, the study found.

Researchers found a healthy range for sodium intake and concluded as many as 75 percent of Americans were in the zone. The issue is that national recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association are in the lower area where cardiovascular risks may increase, Yusuf said.

“Going down to those levels may be harmful,” he said.

Current dietary guidelines recommend less than 1.5 grams (1,500 milligrams) per day – but the study allows up to 2.3 grams (2,300 milligrams) per day.

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