Sodium Reduction Could Save Half Million US Lives Over Ten Years
February 12, 2013

Sodium Reduction Could Save Half Million US Lives Over Ten Years

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

It´s common knowledge too much sodium in your diet dangerously raises your blood pressure levels, posing serious harm to your heart and overall health. But with so many foods loaded with salt, it is often difficult limiting the amount of the dangerous chemical in your diet. But all the same, it is important to find ways to cut back now before it´s too late.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has been at the forefront of the sodium intake war for decades and in a newly published study appearing in the group´s journal Hypertension, researchers, led by Pamela Coxson, PhD, of the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), have shown lower sodium in the US diet can save as many as half a million lives over the next ten years.

Coxson and her colleagues used computer simulations and models to project the effects of small, steady annual reductions of sodium intake in the US diet, reducing roughly 5 percent of a teaspoon of salt per person per day over 10 years. The team said, depending on the assumptions of the models, a 40 percent decrease in sodium intake can save between 280,000 and 500,000 lives over ten years. They said roughly 60 percent more deaths could be averted over this time period if the same reductions were achieved more quickly–up to 850,000 lives saved.

The study consisted of simulations from three separate research groups, each using a different approach to reach a similar outcome. The first approach used observational cardiovascular outcome follow-up data. The two latter approaches based projections on established evidence that salt reduction lowers blood pressure.

"The research groups used the same target populations and baseline death rates for each projection, and our study found that the different sources of evidence for the cardiovascular effects of sodium led to similar projected outcomes," said Coxson, a mathematics specialist in the department of medicine at UCSF.

"It is helpful when three research groups use different approaches and come up with similar results," added Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, PhD, MD, senior author of the study and associate professor of medicine at UCSF and director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations.

The researchers also conducted the studies using three different simulation models: gradual reduction of sodium by 40 percent over ten years; instant reduction of sodium by 40 percent; and instant reduction of sodium to no more than 1500 mg/day. The researchers said the first model is likely the best achievable public health goal.

The current US food supply makes it extremely difficult for Americans to choose lower sodium foods. The average American consumes 3,600 mg of salt a day, with 80 percent of that intake coming from commercially prepared and processed foods, according to the UCSF team.

As Americans continue to overload on sodium on a daily basis, they are placing a huge burden on themselves down the road. Because excessive sodium contributes to high blood pressure (HBP), the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases are significantly increased. In the US, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death, and nearly half of these deaths are related to HBP, or hypertension.

"These findings strengthen our understanding that sodium reduction is beneficial to people at all ages," Coxson said in a statement. "Even small, gradual reductions in sodium intake would result in substantial mortality benefits across the population."

Bibbins-Domingo explained “such gradual reductions could be achieved through a combination of consumer education and food labeling, but should likely also include regulation to assure that lower sodium options are available for US consumers.”

The recommended daily allotment of sodium is less than 1500 mg per day, according to the AHA. The group has called on the FDA to set lower limits on the amount of sodium foods may contain. It also favors greater sodium standards for school foods and encourages the food industry to increase efforts to make the foods they produce healthier for Americans.

The study was funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the AHA Western States Affiliate.