Low sodium intake could be riskier than thought

May 6, 2011 By Nanci Hellmich

Doctors have long encouraged patients to slash their salt intake for good heart health.

The American Heart Association advises people to consume no more than 1,500 milligrams a day of sodium to reduce their risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke and . This is less than half of what people consume now.

One reason for this advice: Elevated blood pressure is a major public health problem. About 90 percent of all Americans will develop hypertension over their lifetime, the heart association says.

But a European study coordinated in Belgium raises questions about sodium's effect on the heart.

Researchers followed 3,681 people, average age 40, for about eight years, testing sodium excretion in the urine. They found that systolic blood pressure (top number) was slightly lower in those who excreted less sodium, but that didn't translate into a lower risk of cardiovascular death. In fact, those with lower sodium excretion had an increased risk of . The findings were consistent in participants younger and older than 60.

Jan Staessen, a professor of medicine at the University of Leuven in Belgium and one of the authors of the report in Wednesday's , says the study does not support the recommendation of a general reduction of for everyone, although salt reduction could be beneficial in lowering the blood pressure of people with hypertension. Reducing salt "is recommended for people with and people with heart failure, but recommending it to the population as a whole, I wouldn't do without proving it's completely safe," he says.

"If one lowers to , this change in sodium activates several systems that conserve sodium, and those systems are implicated in disease processes such as damaging the arterial wall and kidneys."

The findings may apply to Americans of white European descent but might be less applicable to blacks because they are believed to be more salt-sensitive, he says.

The research is drawing fire from medical experts here. Ralph Sacco, president of the American Heart Association and chairman of neurology at the University of Miami, says this is only one study of a relatively young, mostly white population-and blood pressure tends to rise with age and affect African Americans disproportionately.

"We have based our recommendations on the many scientific studies which show a strong relationship between reduced sodium consumption and a lower risk of heart attacks, congestive and stroke," he says. "There are good randomized, controlled studies-the gold standard of scientific studies-that show a lower sodium diet has a meaningful effect on blood pressure."

Atlanta cardiologist Gina Lundberg supports the 1,500-milligram limit: "We're all eating too much sodium too many prepared, processed foods."

Leaders in the salt industry applaud the new research. "This study basically says that salt reduction to reduce cardiovascular disease is a strategy that is not going to work," says Morton Satin of the Salt Institute, an industry group.

Explore further: Study evaluates relationship of urinary sodium with health outcomes

Related Stories

Study evaluates relationship of urinary sodium with health outcomes

May 3, 2011
In a study conducted to examine the health outcomes related to salt intake, as gauged by the amount of sodium excreted in the urine, lower sodium excretion was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular death, while ...

Recommended for you

Placental accumulation of flame retardant chemical alters serotonin production in rats

January 22, 2018
A North Carolina State University-led research team has shown a connection between exposure to a widely used flame retardant chemical mixture and disruption of normal placental function in rats, leading to altered production ...

Marijuana use does not lower chances of getting pregnant

January 22, 2018
Marijuana use—by either men or women—does not appear to lower a couple's chances of getting pregnant, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.