by Jung-Gi Min
A quick look through any magazine on nutrition or healthy living and one is almost guaranteed to find at least one article on the devastating effects of salt on the body. As world leaders try to find solutions the global phenomenon of aging populations and the associated rise in chronic diseases, limiting salt intake has garnered much attention as a feasible method of achieving a healthier world.
Health organizations around the world have proposed that a high intake of salt contribute to various cardiovascular complications like coronary heart disease. The overarching idea is that because high salt levels are responsible for complications like high blood pressure that are associated with heart disease, salt is implicated in the propagation of cardiovascular damage.
According to the American Heart Association, excess salt consumption, characteristic of over three quarters of the world population, contributed to 2.3 million deaths in the U.S alone. The same organization also revealed that 15% of all deaths from cardiovascular disease were caused by excessive salt.
Figures such as these led a study in the Lancet to conclude that reducing salt intake by 3000 milligrams per day would save 10 to 13 billion dollars in health care costs in the United States. Healthcare costs in the US is currently at 18% of GDP, the highest figure of any country in the world.
However, some recent studies have cast skepticism over the findings that reducing salt intake would drastically improve the cardiovascular health of the population as a whole. A meta-analysis study in the American Journal of Hypertension, for example, found no strong evidence of any effect of salt reduction in individuals with normal blood pressure.
According to Dr. Kelvin Yen, a research professor at USC’s Davis School of Gerontology, it is no surprise that more and more data are coming out suggesting that salt intake does not influence health outcomes as much as previously believed. This has in part to do with the body’s complex system of monitoring and regulating the amount of salt in the body.
“The body self-regulates the amount of salt in the body with some people apparently more sensitive to salt intake than others.” explained Dr. Yen.
In fact, some researchers suggest that Americans are currently consuming a healthy amount of salt and that the current recommended salt guidelines by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be too low. This was shown as a part of a study in the American Journal of Hypertension from Denmark that reveals that low levels of salt consumption may actually have the greater risk of death than high salt consumption. According to Dr. Niels Graudal, from the Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, there is no reason for most individuals to change their dietary intake of salt because most people eat a safe amount.
And so the debate over whether reducing salt consumption is a viable target to reduce chronic disease continues on.