* Potassium counteracts effects of salt
* Americans consume twice as much as salt as recommended
By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO, July 11 Put down the salt shakers.
Eating too much salt and too little potassium can increase the
risk of death, U.S. government researchers said on Monday.
The findings from a team at the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention are a counterpoint to a fiercely-debated
study released last week that found no evidence that making
small cuts in salt intake lowers the risk of heart disease and
premature death. [ID:nL6E7I60NH]
"Salt is still bad for you," said Dr. Thomas Farley, Health
Commissioner for New York City, which is leading a campaign to
reduce salt in restaurant and packaged foods by 25 percent over
Most health experts agree with Farley that consuming too
much salt is not good for you and that cutting salt intake can
reduce high blood pressure, which raises the risk of heart
attack and stroke. Salt intake has been rising since the 1970s,
with Americans consuming about twice the recommended daily
The CDC study, published in the Archives of Internal
Medicine, specifically focused on growing research that shows a
diet high in salt and low in potassium is especially risky.
Farley, who wrote an editorial on the CDC study, said it is
one of the best yet looking at the long-term effects of eating
too much salt.
"It is entirely consistent with what we've said all along
about sodium intake," Farley said in a telephone interview.
For the study, researchers looked at the long-term effects
of sodium and potassium intake as part of a 15-year study of
more than 12,000 people.
By the end of the study period, 2,270 of the study
participants had died; 825 of these deaths were from heart
disease and 433 were from blood clots and strokes.
POTASSIUM IS KEY
They found that people who had a high salt intake and a low
potassium intake were most at risk.
"People who ate a diet high in sodium and low in potassium
had a 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause, and
about twice the risk of death -- or a 200 percent increase --
from a heart attack," said Dr. Elena Kuklina of the CDC who
helped lead the study.
She said consumers need to increase the levels of potassium
in their diet by adding more servings of fresh fruits and
vegetables, such as spinach, grapes, carrots, sweet potatoes,
and low fat milk and yogurt.
The Salt Institute, an industry group, challenged the
findings, pointing out that the CDC study found that the link
between salt intake and heart disease was statistically
"This is a highly flawed publication that reveals more
about the anti-salt agenda being pursued by the CDC than about
any relationship between salt and health," said Mort Satin, the
Salt Institute's Director of Science and Research.
"The only significance is between low potassium and
mortality," Satin said in a statement.
Dr. Robert Briss, director of the National Center for
Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the CDC,
said the findings support the general weight of evidence and
suggests that higher doses of sodium are linked with poor
And it suggests "that higher potassium may be better for
you," Briss said in a telephone interview.
"About 90 percent of Americans consume more sodium than is
recommended. This impacts their blood pressure," Briss said.
"Most of that sodium is not related to the salt shaker but
it is in foods and especially processed and restaurant foods
that we buy and order from restaurants. Consumers, even
motivated ones, don't have as much choice as they could," he
Kuklina said potassium often counteracts the effects of
salt in the diet. This equilibrium is affected when people eat
highly processed foods, which tend to increase sodium levels
and decrease potassium content.
"If sodium increases your high blood pressure, potassium
decreases it. If sodium retains water, potassium helps you get
rid of it," she said.
Instead of focusing only on salt, Kuklina said researchers
should focus on the balance between potassium and salt.
"We need to strive to do both -- decrease your sodium
intake and increase your potassium intake," she said.
(Editing by Sandra Maler)