The findings contradict current healthy eating recommendations, including those from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, advising a lower salt intake in an effort to protect against heart disease, and high blood pressure.
To investigate, researchers examined date 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.
Researchers divided 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 8 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.
Researchers found that the chance of getting heart and blood vessel diseases did not differ in the three groups. However, participants with the lowest salt intake had the highest rate of death from heart disease during the follow up (4 percent), and people who ate the most salt had the lowest (less than 1 percent).
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.
While this study challenges current widespread healthy eating recommendations to reduce salt intake, it is by no means conclusive and more studies are needed on the subject before such recommendations can be changed. The study did have limitations including a small sample size, and only included young, white Europeans - a population that naturally tends to have a lower risk for heart disease and high blood pressure.
Currently, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recommends Canadians eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium (about 1 tsp / 5 mL of salt) a day total from processed foods and salt added during food preparation and at the table. For those who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension), or those who are salt sensitive, sodium intake should be limited to 1,500 mg (2/3 tsp) a day.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
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