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Reducing Salt Intake Does Not Cut Heart Disease Risk

July 6, 2011

Researchers today are suggesting that the dietary intake of salt may not be as harmful for you as previously believed.

Consuming salt has been shown to reduce blood pressure but does not reduce the risk of dying from heart disease.

Researchers from the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth in the UK reviewed several studies with almost 6,500 subjects and contrary to what popular belief, salt may not be excessively harmful.

The researchers said they suspected the trials were too small to show any benefits to heart health, and called for large-scale studies to be carried out soon.

“With governments setting ever lower targets for salt intake and food manufacturers working to remove it from their products, it’s really important that we do some large research trials to get a full understanding of the benefits and risks of reducing salt intake,” said Rod Taylor of Exeter University, who led the review.

The Cochrane Library, publisher of the study, has attracted rebuke from nutrition experts. Francesco Cappuccio, head of the World Health Organization’s collaborating center for nutrition at Warwick University, called it, “a surprisingly poor piece of work.”

“This study does not change the priorities outlined worldwide for a population reduction in salt intake to prevent heart attacks and strokes, the greatest killers in the world,” Cappuccio told Reuters.

Experts familiar with heart disease agree that consuming excessive amounts of salt is harmful and that reducing salt intake can lessen the chances of hypertension in people with normal and high blood pressure.

Researchers not involved with this research also weighed in on the findings with mixed opinions. They debate how big a role sodium plays in the development of heart disease.

“I had been long concerned that the bold and strident public health recommendations of trying to reduce salt intake in Western societies was not based on robust data and may be premature,” Dr. Salim Yusuf, professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, told ABC News’ Kim Carollo.

The studies reviewed by the authors, he said, suggest the relationship between salt consumption and cardiovascular disease is complex and requires more research. This research should be a priority, he added.

“I have always viewed the data for salt shortening life as being very weak,” Dr. Ken Fujioka, director of the Nutrition and Metabolic Research Center at Scripps Health in San Diego, told Carollo.

“We do know that high blood pressure, while associated with all forms of cardiovascular disease, is particularly associated with risk for stroke,” said Dr. Merle Myerson, director of the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Program at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York.

Professor of nutrition at Auckland University of Technology in Australia, Elaine Rush, said that putting a spotlight on single trials and generalizing dietary advice for a single nutrient such as salt was “not helpful.”

“What is helpful is for the food industry to reformulate products to reduce sodium and increase the nutrient quality of foods by using real ingredients,” she said in an emailed comment to Reuters.

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