Eating less salt doesn't cut heart risks: study

NEW YORK Tue May 3, 2011 5:45pm EDT

Related Topics

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who ate lots of salt were not more likely to get high blood pressure, and were less likely to die of heart disease than those with a low salt intake, in a new European study.

The findings "certainly do not support the current recommendation to lower salt intake in the general population," study author Dr. Jan Staessen, of the University of Leuven in Belgium, told Reuters Health.

Current salt guidelines, including those released by the U.S. government in January, are based on data from short-term studies of people who volunteered to be assigned to a low-salt or high-salt diet, Staessen said.

The U.S. guidelines recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams of salt daily - 1,500 mg in certain people who are more at risk for high blood pressure or heart disease.

While previous trials suggested a blood pressure benefit with lower salt intake, research has yet to show whether that translates into better overall heart health in the wider population.

The researchers used data from two different studies, incorporating a total of about 3,700 Europeans who had their salt consumption measured through urine samples at the start of the studies. Staessen and his colleagues broke the participants up into three groups: those with highest and lowest salt intakes, and those with average intake.

None of the participants had heart disease at the outset, and two thirds had normal blood pressure. They were followed for an average of 8 years, during which researchers determined how many of them were diagnosed with heart disease, and in a smaller group, how many got high blood pressure.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The chance of getting heart and blood vessel diseases did not differ in the three groups. However, participants with the lowest salt intake had the highest rate of death from heart disease during the follow up (4 percent), and people who ate the most salt had the lowest (less than 1 percent).

Across all three salt-intake groups, about one in four study participants who started out with normal blood pressure were diagnosed with high blood pressure during follow up.

The researchers did find that one measure of blood pressure, systolic blood pressure, increased as salt intake increased over time - but the change was very small, so it may not be important to health outcomes, Staessen said.

Reducing salt may still be a good idea for people who already have high blood pressure or who have had heart problems in the past, he added, but the study found no evidence that dietary salt causes those conditions to arise.

"It's clear that one should be very careful in advocating generalized reduction in sodium intake in the population at large," Staessen said. "There might be some benefits, but there might also be some adverse effects."

Dr. Hillel Cohen, an epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, told Reuters Health that when restaurants or food companies put less salt in their products, they may put in other potentially harmful products to make up for the lost taste, or as preservatives.

Consumers shouldn't change their salt-eating behavior based on the limited studies that have tried to determine the link between sodium and heart risks, added Cohen, who was not involved in the current research.

The authors caution that their analysis included only white Europeans, and so the results may not translate to people of other ethnicities.

SOURCE: JAMA, online May 3, 2011.

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (9)
e--man wrote:
Your kidneys remove excess salt, just as the remove other chemicals from the body. Unless your kidneys are defective, the amount of salt in your blood will be constant. You may want to watch your salt intake if you have kidney problems.

May 03, 2011 7:16pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
JoeEndUser wrote:
It should be noted that the study was done on Finish people, which is not to say it is flawed, but just that it is a fairly narrow. In other articles such as “Salt usage behaviors are related to urinary sodium
excretion in normotensive Korean adults” in 2007 it points out that urinary sodium excretion tests are not very predictive to how much sodium a person actually injests. An interesting study though.

May 03, 2011 7:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
CharlesRKiss wrote:
Salt consumption has always been a huge controversy [] because the evidence has always been inconclusive. Thank God I hadn’t wasted a single moment of flavor and took the government recommendations with a few shakes of salt!

Government recommendations on food intake never ceases to amaze me (who are these people): “corn syrup is okay to feed children in public schools because it’s cheap” …and there’s a, uh, diabetes epidemic!!

Geez, pass the frickin’ margarita.

May 03, 2011 12:19am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.