Ask just about any doctor, dietician or health organization and they will probably tell you to put down the salt shaker. But where is the science supporting that recommendation? A new study appearing in today’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that, contrary to all the advice you’ve heard, lower sodium is actually associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular death. In addition, the study concluded that higher sodium levels do not correspond with increased hypertension or cardiovascular disease complications.
Researchers at the University of Leuven, Belgium examined the incidence of death, illness and hypertension in relation to the amounts of sodium excreted in urine. Participants included 3,681 people without cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study.
According to the article, the risk of death from heart disease was significantly higher in those with the lowest sodium (a death rate of 4.1%) compared to those with the highest sodium levels (less than 1%). The authors found that baseline sodium levels did not predict total mortality or either fatal or nonfatal cardiovascular events.
With respect to high blood pressure, there was no association between urinary sodium and hypertension.
The authors stated that their findings “refute the estimates of computer models of lives saved and health care costs reduced with lower salt intake. They do also not support the current recommendations of a generalized and indiscriminate reduction of salt intake at the population level.”
The Salt Institute, an industry trade association, welcomed the new study which, it says, debunks claims by the Food and Drug Administration and others pushing for population-wide reductions in salt consumption. The Institute points out that the study results indicate that there is an increased rate of death for sodium intakes at the levels recommended by the U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines.
“We now know conclusively that the U.S. government’s war on salt consumption will cause harm,” said Lori Roman, president of the Salt Institute. “We call on government agencies to stop their population-wide sodium reduction agenda and amend the Dietary Guidelines on sodium. We simply ask them to ‘First, do no harm.’”
According to the Salt Institute, this new study confirms previous research indicating that reductions in sodium lead to an increased risk of disease and death. Other studies have shown:
- Low-salt diets lead to higher rates of cardiac events and death
- Low-salt diets are linked to an increase in insulin resistance, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes
- Elderly patients with low sodium levels have more falls and broken hips and a decrease in cognitive abilities.
- Low birth weight babies are also born with low blood sodium levels because their mothers were on low-salt diets and infants with low sodium infants may be predisposed to poor brain function between the ages of 10 and 13.