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Salt Or No Salt?

May 4, 2011

Consuming a lot of salt may not lead to high blood pressure or heart disease in healthy people, according to a new European study.

In January, the U.S. government released new salt intake guidelines recommending that Americans should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of salt a day, and 1,500 milligrams for those who are at a higher risk of high blood pressure or heart disease.

However, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that there is no health advantage for healthy people who eat the least amount of sodium over those who eat the most amount of salt.

Consuming less salt has been found to benefit people with hypertension, but research has yet to conclude the benefit of a reduced salt diet for healthy people.

Author of the study Dr. Jan Staessen of the University of Leuven in Belgium told Reuters that the findings “certainly do not support the current recommendation to lower salt intake in the general population.”

The latest study examined the sodium intake of almost 3,700 participants, with an average age of 40. Of these, none had any heart disease and two thirds had normal blood pressure. Researchers separated them into three groups: those with highest salt intake, those with lowest salt intake, and those with average salt consumption. Each participant’s sodium level was measured through their urine samples at the beginning and end of the study. They were observed for an average of 8 years, at which point it was determined how many of them were diagnosed with heart disease, and how many ended up with high blood pressure.

Results found that those who consumed the least amount of salt had a 56% higher risk of death from a heart attack or stroke than those who were in the highest consumption group. This is after controlling for obesity, cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and other risk factors, reports Health.com via CNN.

Fifty deaths occurred in participants with the lowest sodium intake, 24 in the medium salt intake, and 10 deaths in the group with the highest sodium intakes, the study found.

Even with these results, it is still recommended that people who already have high blood pressure or have had heart problems in the past continue to reduce salt intake.

However, Staessen says, “It’s clear that one should be very careful in advocating generalized reduction in sodium intake in the population at large. There might be some benefits, but there might also be some adverse effects.”

A preventive cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota Randal Thomas, M.D. says that the findings suggest that differences in individuals should be taken into account when setting guidelines to sodium intake.

“We know that not everybody is as sensitive to sodium in their diet as others. Even among people with high blood pressure, no more than half are probably sodium sensitive, and in the general population, it’s probably less than 10 percent,” Thomas told health.com. “In setting up a public policy, it’s important to recognize the need to have a policy that doesn’t punish the majority for the benefit of the minority.”

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