Lowering salt intake has long been advised by healthcare providers for the reduction of blood pressure, especially for those who suffer from hypertension. However, the results of an eight-year study by scientists in Belgium suggest that eating a diet high in salt is not only good for you, but could also reduce the chances of developing heart disease, meaning salt just may be the spice of life after all.
Over the course of the European-based study, people with the lowest salt intake had the highest rate of death from heart disease. Details of the study were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
According to study author Dr. Jan Staessen, of the University of Leuven in Belgium, the new findings “certainly do not support the current recommendation to lower salt intake in the general population.” In fact, the U.S. guidelines for salt intake recommend consumption of under 2,300 milligrams (mg) daily, while those at greater risk for high blood pressure or heart disease are advised to restrict their consumption to less than 1,500 milligrams per day. However, Staessen pointed out that existing guidelines for salt intake are based on results from short-term studies of volunteers who either followed a diet low in salt or high in salt as assigned by researchers.
Although prior studies have suggested that a lower salt intake helps to keep blood pressure in check, it remains unknown as to whether restricting salt consumption provides for better overall heart health in the broader population.
For their analysis, the researchers examined data from two separate studies involving a total of nearly 3,700 Europeans having an average age of 40, among whom sodium was measured through urine samples taken at the beginning and end of the studies. Among the particpants, none had heart disease, while two-thirds had normal blood pressure when the study began. The subjects were divided into three groups including those with the highest and lowest salt intakes, and those with average intake. The participants were followed for an average of 8 years, during which time the researchers tracked the number who were diagnosed with heart disease, and hypertension.
Findings revealed that those having the lowest levels of sodium, an average of about 2,500 mg, or a little more than one teaspoon daily, gained no benefit in reduction of risk against development of high blood pressure than those who had the highest levels of sodium at an average of nearly 6,000 mg per day. In fact, heart disease deaths were reduced with higher sodium intake, as 50 deaths occurred among the one-third of the participants having the lowest sodium intakes, while there were only 24 deaths among those with average intakes, and just 10 deaths occurred among those with the highest sodium intakes.
In addition, although the top number measurement of blood pressure (systolic) was slightly higher in participants with the highest salt intakes, the amount was not enough to place their readings in the high blood pressure range. No difference in the risk for developing heart disease and hypertension was noted among the three groups, and only about one in four participants was diagnosed with hypertension by the end of the study period.
Staessen said that while a reduction in salt intake is advisable for people diagnosed with hypertension, or those who have experienced heart problems, no evidence was found by study that the amount of salt intake is linked to the onset of these medical conditions. He stated, “It’s clear that one should be very careful in advocating generalized reduction in sodium intake in the population at large.” He then added, “There might be some benefits, but there might also be some adverse effects.” However, the study authors did caution that their analysis included only white Europeans. Therefore, the results may not translate to people of other ethnicities.
Besides monitoring salt intake, there are other ways to lower blood pressure without medication. Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, consuming only low-fat dairy foods, and avoiding animal fats, sweets, and sugary beverages can go a long way in keeping blood pressure in check. In addition, getting a sufficient amount of exercise can keep you on a healthy path.
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