Feb 15 The United States could prevent up to
half a million deaths over the next decade if Americans cut
their salt intake to within national guidelines, according to a
That finding, which comes the week New York City announced
success toward its goals of cutting salt levels by one-quarter
by 2014, is based on computer simulations using data from
various studies on the effects of extra sodium on blood pressure
and heart risks.
The Institute of Medicine recommends most healthy people get
1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day, with an upper limit of
2,300 mg. But the average American eats something like 3,600 mg
a day, largely through processed food.
"Reducing sodium intake is important for everyone, not just
a small subset of people who are salt sensitive," said study
lead author Pamela Coxson, at the University of California, San
Although the health effects of cutting back on salt may be
small for the average person, she said, the results show they
add up when projected across millions of Americans.
Coxson and her colleagues ran three salt-reduction scenarios
through models that predicted how a lower-sodium diet would have
an impact on a person's risk of having high blood pressure or
dying of cardiovascular disease.
The most realistic scenario was a gradual decline in the
average sodium intake over ten years to about 2,200 mg per day.
That goal would be "optimistic but potentially achievable," the
researchers wrote in the journal Hypertension.
Based on their calculations, and taking into account
uncertainties about sodium's direct effect on the heart, Coxson
and her colleagues calculated 280,000 to 500,000 fewer Americans
would die over the next decade as a result of that reduction.
A more dramatic and immediate decline to 1,500 mg of salt
per day across the U.S. population could prevent up to 1.2
million deaths, largely from heart disease or stroke, the
researchers said. But that isn't very realistic, policy-wise.
"The gradual reduction is something that many countries
around the world are working on in various ways," Coxson told
Reuters Health, noting that some countries have worked with food
producers to cut back salt in meat, canned goods and bread.
"The big majority of our intake of sodium is coming from
those types of processed foods," Coxson said. "The individual at
home with their salt shakes only controls maybe 20 to 25 percent
of their intake."
But other researchers said the models didn't reflect the
full picture of variations in salt intake.
Michael Alderman from the Albert Einstein College of
Medicine in New York said the researchers' calculations are
missing data on how too little sodium can also raise heart
risks, through its effect on blood fats and insulin.
He added that there's no evidence that eating less than
2,000 mg of sodium per day is beneficial for the average person.
"Like every other essential nutrient that I know of, too
little is not good for you, and too much is not good for you,"
(Reporting from New York by Genevra Pittman at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies)