It has long been know that increased sodium chloride or salt intake is bad for you and that is can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. There is an abundance of medical research to substantiate the recommendation to decrease salt intake in an effort to prevent these illnesses. The United States Food and Drug Administration recently published recommendations for decreased salt intake. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed implementing salt restrictions for all restaurants in the city’s five boroughs. Public health officials have made lowering salt consumption a top priority for many years. Contradicting this thought process, a new study published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that salt intake is not bad for you and that it could actually be good. This is likely to be good news for the Salt Institute, a salt advocacy group, who has been a long time proponent of salt and salt intake. In the study, the researchers estimated salt intake by analyzing salt excretion into the urine of the participants. None of the 3,681participants had high blood pressure or heart disease at the start of the research study. They found that those participants who had the lowest levels of sodium intake had no better protection against high blood pressure than those participants who had the highest levels of sodium intake. In addition, the mortality from heart disease decreased in those participants which had the highest levels of salt intake: 50 deaths were documented in the participants with the lowest third of salt intake compared to only 10 deaths in the participants with the highest third of salt intake. The study has added fuel to the ongoing debate about whether the salt restriction guidelines are too severe. Some have suggested that the salt restriction guidelines should not be applied to all individuals, especially those with normal blood pressure without heart disease. Some individuals may be more sensitive to increased salt intake, especially those with pre-existing high blood pressure, heart failure, or kidney disease. There are some health experts and nutritionists who have stated that the results of the study are flawed and should not be considered when making recommendations regarding salt intake. More studies are needed to further delineate the relationship between salt intake, high blood pressure, and the risk for developing heart disease and stroke.
Katarzyna Stolarz-Skrzypek et. al. (2011) “Fatal and Nonfatal Outcomes, Incidence of Hypertension, and Blood Pressure Changes in Relation to Urinary Sodium Excretion” JAMA 305(17):1777-1785.