Salt intake physiologically set in humans, new study finds

Salt intake is controlled by networks in the brain and not by the salt in one's food.

(Medical Xpress)—Don't toss your saltshaker out just yet. A new study led by scientists affiliated with the University of California, Davis, adds further credence to the notion that concern about the amount of salt you consume may be misplaced.

The study documents in humans what neuroscientists have reported for some time: animals' sodium (salt) intake is controlled by networks in the brain and not by the salt in one's food. The findings have important implications for future U.S. directed at sodium intake.

Findings from the new study, entitled "Normal Range of Human Dietary Sodium Intake: A Perspective Based on 24-hour Urinary Sodium Excretion Worldwide," will be published online in advance of the print edition of the American Journal of Hypertension, appearing Aug. 26.

For decades, U.S. health policies have emphasized the importance of limiting in order to lower the risks of cardiovascular disease related to . This new scientific review, however, found that people have a very predictable and narrow range of daily sodium intake (approximately 2,600 mg to 4,800 mg per day) that has remained quite constant during more than 50 years and across at least 45 countries.

"Our data clearly demonstrate that humans' sodium (salt) intake is regulated within a relatively narrow 'normal' range that is defined by the body's physiology and biological need rather than by the food supply," said the study's lead author David McCarron, a physician and adjunct professor in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition. "The nation's future and guidelines should be developed based on that biologically determined range."

He noted that these findings were recently presented to an Institute of Medicine committee, which prepared the report "Sodium Intake in Populations—Assessment of Evidence."

"In releasing that report, the Institute of Medicine acknowledged for administrative reasons that it remained silent on what constituted the 'normal range' of sodium intake for humans and specifically what defined 'excessive' intake," McCarron said. He noted that the institute's report was explicit in stating that the current U.S. sodium guidelines for healthy individuals (no more than 2,300 mg per day) and for those at risk of heart disease (no more than 1,500 mg per day) were unsupported by data in the medical literature.

"However, our research team's new study, combined with our 2009 publication, now defines what for humans is the normal range of sodium or and suggests what would constitute both an excessive and deficient sodium intake in terms of promoting optimal health," McCarron said. "Our data demonstrate that past U.S. guidelines for sodium (salt) intake are well below human needs."

Co-author Joel Geerling, a physician and neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, said: "These findings are consistent with the idea that eating salt is physiologically controlled, as predicted by decades of efforts by the neuroscience community directed at understanding the brain's role in the regulation of sodium appetite."

"Our new study explains why decades of government efforts have failed to lower the sodium, or salt, intake in the U.S.," said Judith Stern, one of the study's authors and a professor emeritus of nutrition and internal medicine at UC Davis. "Policy simply cannot change physiology."

About the new study

The new study's combined data represent more than 69,000 research participants in 190 government-sponsored studies in 45 countries over the past five decades. Salt intake was measured in terms of sodium excreted in the urine during a 24-hour period. The average and range of the combined data were nearly identical to those first reported in the researchers' 2009 study on salt intake.

The study reported an average intake of sodium of approximately 3,650 mg per day and a normal range of 2,600 to 4,800 mg per day.

"This analysis defines the normal range and mean value for sodium intake in humans and documents that the range has not changed during five decades, nor has it been influenced by ethnicity or the unique dietary practices of various cultures around the world," McCarron said.

"If future nutritional guidelines are to be effective, they must be based on the scientific reality reflected in these data, which have documented that a normal range for human exists," he said. "Sodium intake will not be changed by altering the salt content of food products or other public-policy attempts to limit sodium consumption."

Collaborating with McCarron, Stern and Geerling on the new review study were Alexandra Kazaks of Bastyr University, Seattle, Wash.; and Niels Graudal of University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark.

The authors report that funding for the study was not provided by the food industry nor did any of the research support represent a conflict of interest.

More information: ajh.oxfordjournals.org/lookup/… i/10.1093/ajh/hpt139

Related Stories

Excessive salt consumption appears to be bad for your bones

Jun 17, 2013

A high-salt diet raises a woman's risk of breaking a bone after menopause, no matter what her bone density is, according to a new study that will be presented Saturday at The Endocrine Society's 95th Annual Meeting in San ...

Canadians support interventions to reduce dietary salt

Mar 13, 2013

Many Canadians are concerned about dietary sodium and welcome government intervention to reduce sodium intake through a variety of measures, including lowering sodium in food, and education and awareness, according to a national ...

Recommended for you

Study examines effect of hospital switch to for-profit status

13 hours ago

Hospital conversion from nonprofit to for-profit status in the 2000s was associated with better subsequent financial health but had no relationship to the quality of care delivered, mortality rates, or the proportion of poor ...

Hospital acquisitions leading to increased patient costs

13 hours ago

The trend of hospitals consolidating medical groups and physician practices in an effort to improve the coordination of patient care is backfiring and increasing the cost of patient care, according to a new study led by the ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Aaron1980
2.1 / 5 (11) Aug 27, 2013
McCarron said. "Our data demonstrate that past U.S. guidelines for sodium (salt) intake are well below human needs."
Sean_W
1.7 / 5 (11) Aug 27, 2013
Who are you going to believe: Mayor Bloomberg or your lying kidneys?
verkle
1 / 5 (9) Aug 27, 2013
Can you imagine how much sodium some of our ancestors ingested when eating salt pork, or salted fish, other food that was preserved by salt?

brianweymes
5 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2013
I doubt this is the final word.
jimjim
1 / 5 (6) Aug 27, 2013
What about refined salt vs. natural salt. Salt isn't just sodium chloride; it has lots of trace minerals and other materials mixed in. Refined salt is only sodium chloride and a bit of inorganic iodine laced compounds thrown in. Hardly what nature has intended for consumption.

I don't like eating alot of salt but I do have a very nice electronic salt grinder that I fill with Pink Himalayan salt. That I sparingly add to anything I see fit. I get all the iodine I need from Nori.
Aaron1980
1.7 / 5 (11) Aug 27, 2013
salt is salt and cheap (no money in salt) ... before refrigeration our ancestors ate 2000 times the salt we eat today everyday for tens of thousands of years.

now refined sugars ... that is the real problem.... but no one talks about that huge money industry so much
dogbert
1.8 / 5 (10) Aug 28, 2013
It is about time that someone did a study to show that the salt intake recommendations are arbitrary and ineffective. Normal human beings have no trouble at all dumping excess salt and will seek out salt when restricted.

Yes, people with kidney failure may have to limit sodium, but healthy people do not need to.
88HUX88
not rated yet Aug 28, 2013
People prey to marketing bang on about trace minerals, is there no other source for them? What about your food? If you have money to spare help yourself but spare us the advertising. http://www.saltin...ral-salt - I use a salt lick at my dinner table. Nature has no intentions.
barakn
1 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2013
"salt is salt and cheap (no money in salt) ... before refrigeration our ancestors ate 2000 times the salt we eat today everyday for tens of thousands of years.

now refined sugars ... that is the real problem.... but no one talks about that huge money industry so much "

They ate 6.8 kg of salt daily? I don't think so. Eating 0.5 kg of salt is a form of suicide in Japan and China.
And what's up with the quote button not working properly?
mdarr
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2013
Why all the political talk? It is way too early for that.
So now we have a statistical study implying that sodium intake across the world has remained in a relatively narrow range for the last 5 decades.
Before we jump to policy conclusions, tt would be reasonable to ask how this is related to studies that show health impacts based on higher concentrations in the blood.
We don't need to doubt the integrity of the research.
Lets hear some analysis of the link used between urine excretion levels and blood levels of sodium?
We have a 100% variance in levels reported. They range from the top of recommended levels to double that. Are there ethnic differences or regional differences? This article does not tell us whether the they tested for such variables although such a test is obviously vital. Hopefully, the actual research paper addresses these issues and the failure is in this review.