Consuming some salt may be healthier than too little or too much, Canadian researchers reported this week in a study likely to fuel the debate over the health effects of salt in the diet.
Health professionals for years have warned that high salt intake increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, but recent studies are questioning that line of thought.
Although lowering sodium intake has been shown to reduce blood pressure, research has yet to prove whether that translates into better overall heart health in the wider population. A report released earlier this month suggested cutting salt may not improve the health of the general population.
In the latest study, researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada found people who consumed a moderate amount of salt had the lowest risk of heart problems, while people who had high-salt diets had an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and other cardiovascular events.
Those with low-salt diets had a higher risk of death from heart disease and an increased risk of being hospitalized for heart failure.
The findings highlight the importance of reducing salt intake in those consuming high-salt diets and the need for reducing sodium content in manufactured foods that are high in salt.
But for those with moderate or average intake, whether further reduction of salt in the diet will be beneficial remains to be seen.
For the study, the team studied sodium and potassium levels found in a morning sample of urine taken from nearly 30,000 people in two clinical trials.
After about four years, about 16 percent of study participants had some kind of heart event. The team then looked for a correlation between salt intake and the risk of heart trouble.
A high salt intake - consuming 7 to 8 grams of sodium a day - was harmful to heart health. But low salt intake - consuming less than 3 grams of sodium a day - also carried risks of increased death from heart-related causes and hospitalization for heart failure.
The researchers said the findings could challenge U.S. dietary guidelines, which recommend Americans consume less than 2.3 grams (2300 milligrams) of sodium daily, or 1.5 grams (1500 milligrams) for people who are more at risk of high blood pressure or heart disease.
A teaspoon of table salt contains 2.3 grams (2300 milligrams) of sodium.
Some experts feel the increased heart events in the study might be related to underlying disease. It was also noted that there were far fewer heart problems at the low end of salt consumption compared with the high-intake group.
Taken together, many experts believe the scientific argument for reducing the amount of salt in processed foods remains strong.
Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, November 23, 2011
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