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Report: Time for Americans to Shake Salt Habit

Studies reiterate link between sodium intake and hypertension (Mar. 28)

The love affair between U.S. residents and salt is making us sick, say researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans. High sodium intake increases blood pressure and leads to higher rates of heart attack and strokes. Nevertheless, Americans continue to ingest far greater amounts of sodium than those recommended by physicians and by national guidelines, the authors say.

Theodore A. Kotchen, MD, and his colleagues published a review of the relevant literature in the March 27 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors cite correlations between blood pressure and salt intake in a number of studies; typically, the causal link between lowering salt intake and decreased levels of blood pressure is most evident in individuals who have been diagnosed with hypertension. Although not so pronounced, there is also an association between salt intake and blood pressure in non-hypertensive individuals. In addition, recent studies have demonstrated that a reduced salt intake is associated with decreased cardiovascular disease and decreased mortality.

In national studies conducted in Finland and the U.K., instituting a national salt-reduction program led to decreased sodium intake. In Finland, the resulting decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressures corresponded to a 75% to 80% decrease in death due to stroke and coronary heart disease.

Nevertheless, not all experts concur with population-based recommendations to lower salt intake. In their article, Kotchen and his colleagues review the reasons for this position.

“Salt is essential for life, but it has been difficult to distinguish salt need from salt preference,” he said. “Given the medical evidence, it seems that recommendations for reducing levels of salt consumption in the general population would be justifiable at this time.”

However, in terms of safety, the lower limit of salt consumption has not been clearly identified, Kotchen notes. In certain patient groups, less rigorous targets for salt reduction may be appropriate.

Source: Medical College of Wisconsin; March 28, 2013.

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