Everything in Moderation, Even Salt

Heart disease and diabetes patients associated with salt risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) For years, the health care community has agreed that people at risk of heart disease should lower their salt intake. Now, it seems that too little salt may be just as harmful as too much salt.

People with heart disease or diabetes who consume less than a moderate level of salt may have an increased risk of dangerous heart-related problems and death from heart disease. These patients may have similarly high risks if they eat more than a moderate level of salt.

"Watch how much salt you eat."

Martin J. O'Donnell, M.B., Ph.D., of McMaster University, and his fellow researchers wanted to gain a better understanding of the relationship between sodium (salt) and potassium intake and the risk of heart disease.

It has already been established that eating too much salt can be harmful to one's heart health, especially for those with heart disease or diabetes. The latest research by Dr. O'Donnell and colleagues reveals that low levels of salt may also be dangerous.

For their study, the researchers examined urinary sodium and potassium excretion levels (measures of sodium and potassium intake) of nearly 30,000 heart disease and diabetes patients.

They found that a sodium excretion level of more than seven grams per day was associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, hospitalization for congestive heart failure, and death from heart disease.

Compared to those who excreted between four and 5.99 grams of sodium per day, participants who excreted more than eight grams of sodium per day had an 11.2 percent higher risk of death from heart disease, a 6.8 percent higher risk of heart attack, a 6.6 percent higher risk of stroke, and a 6.5 percent higher risk of hospitalization for congestive heart failure.

Participants who excreted between two and 2.99 grams of sodium per day had an 8.6 percent increased risk of death from heart disease and a 5.2 percent increased risk of hospitalization for heart failure.

The researchers also found a link between higher potassium levels and a reduced risk of stroke.

These results suggest that heart disease and diabetes patients do not always need to lower their salt intake. Rather, there may be an ideal middle ground for the amount of salt people should eat. Additionally, eating more potassium - which is found in many fruits and vegetables - may help protect against stroke.

This observational study is published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 23, 2011
Last Updated:
November 25, 2011