Reverse: People who eat more salt are no more likely to have heart and blood pressure problems, says a new study
Eating a diet high in salt may not be as bad for you as first thought and could even reduce chances of heart disease.
An eight-year study by scientists in Belgium found that people who ate lots of salt were no more likely to suffer problems with heart disease or high blood pressure than people who ate less salt.
The findings ‘certainly do not support the current recommendation to lower salt intake in the general population,’ said Dr. Jan Staessen, of the University of Leuven in Belgium.
The average adult consumption is 9g per day, 50 per cent more than is recommended.
Current UK guidelines recommend adults consume no more than 6g of salt per day (about one teaspoon), while babies and children should have less again as their kidneys struggle with large amounts.
While previous trials suggested blood pressure readings cold be improved 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.
Dr. 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 eight 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.
Long-term effects: In the eight-year study, people with the lowest salt intake had the highest rate of death from heart disease
However, participants with the lowest salt intake had the highest rate of death from heart disease during the follow up (4 per cent), and people who ate the most salt had the lowest (less than one per cent).
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, said Dr. Staessen.
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,’ said Dr. Staessen.
‘There might be some benefits, but there might also be some adverse effects.’
The authors caution that their analysis included only white Europeans, and so the results may not translate to people of other ethnicities.
- High salt diet ‘lowers heart disease risk’ (news.bioscholar.com)
- Could Eating Less Salt Be Deadly? (reason.com)
- Study Shows Salty Diet Good, Heart Group Disagrees (webmd.com)