Please Pass the Salt, My Heart'll Be Okay

Lowering salt intake may not reduce risk of high blood pressure or cardiovascular death

(RxWiki News) Salt is in so many of the foods we eat. People fear that eating too much salt can raise their blood pressure, increasing the risk for other problems like heart disease. However, recent research shows that there may not be so much to worry about.

Researchers found an inconsistent link between risk for high blood pressure and salt consumption. In fact, in this study, there were more heart-related deaths among people with less salt in their bodies than among those with lots of salt in their bodies.

"Reducing salt intake may not lower risk of high blood pressure."

Katarzyna Stolarz-Skrzypek, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Leuven in Belgium, and colleagues set out to study the relationship between blood pressure and how much sodium people let out in their urine (an indicator of sodium in the body)

The study's authors write that several past studies found that eating less salt might reduce the risk for heart related problems. This study's results showed that watching your salt intake does not reduce the risk for heart-related death. The study's researchers don’t offer a specific reason for why lower sodium intake might raise heart risk.

The American Heart Association (AHA) says people should consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.  This AHA recommendation is based “on the scientific studies displaying a strong relationship between reduced salt consumption and a lower risk of heart attacks, heart failure and stroke.”

Why is the salt, hypertension and heart problem relationship hard to define? Staessen's study notes that urinary sodium excretion is the best method to measure sodium intake. Another is blood-pressure readings. These tests do not define a consistent relationship.

Additional large clinical trials that randomly assigned people to eat either a low-sodium or normal diet are required to better understand salt's impact on humans.

The Study

  • The study involved 3,681 participants
  • 50 participants with low sodium died throughout the course of the study
  • 24 participants with medium sodium died
  • 10 participants with high sodium died
  • Systolic blood pressure changed as urine sodium levels changed
  • Diastolic blood pressure did not change as urine sodium levels changed
  • Increases in urine sodium levels did not translate to an increased risk of hypertension or cardiovascular complications
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Review Date: 
May 4, 2011