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Low Sodium Diet Study Should Be Taken With a Grain of Salt

By Kathy Hubbard
Honestly, if you read enough studies you’ll find one that says sky diving without a parachute is good for your health. So, it’s no surprise that a recent study has determined that low-salt diets may not be beneficial and may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Really? Maybe. A recent study, called the largest ever conducted, by researchers at McMasters University in Ontario, Canada states that the current recommended maximum sodium intake is actually too low and may be unsafe.
“However, high sodium is also harmful, so an ‘optimal’ range is the best target,” the researchers concluded after studying over 100,000 people from 18 countries over the course of four years.
“The effects of increasing sodium intake on raising blood pressure — a risk factor for heart attack, heart failure, stroke and other problems — become dramatically worse as intake rises above 5 grams per day, especially among people who already have high blood pressure, or who are older than 55, or both.
“But the blood-pressure effects are more modest at average levels of sodium consumption (3 to 5 grams per day) and not evident at low levels of intake below 3 grams of sodium per day (a level that is higher than the maximum currently recommended by many guidelines),” according to Andrew Mente, the lead author of one report, and an assistant professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics.
“While there has been much focus on reducing salt in the diet, an important and ignored approach to lowering blood pressure is increasing the amount of potassium consumed. A balanced approach is what is likely to have the greatest benefit in lowering blood pressure,” says Mente. “This can be achieved by moderation in salt intake, combined with eating lots of fruits and vegetables.”
The conclusion is that while too much salt intake is hazardous to your health, so is too little. Needless to say, this study has come under less than positive scrutiny by others in the medical research field. One comment was, “This is bad science.”
No one is saying that no salt is good for anyone. As a matter of fact, a condition called hyponatraemia is caused by too low a level of sodium in the blood stream and can lead to coma or death. But, the American Heart Association recommends people aim at eating no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, less than half of what the McMaster study states.
The average American consumes somewhere around 3.5 grams of salt or more each day. The AMA says that if you reduce that to 2.4 grams it will significantly improve blood pressure and heart health.
The guideline of 1.5 grams is not for those of us who lose sodium through perspiration, either through exercise or excessive heat. But, the AMA says that “The body needs only a small amount of sodium (less than 500 milligrams per day) to function properly. That’s a mere smidgen, the amount less than a quarter teaspoon.”
So, what’s the deal with salt? What does it do to our bodies? The Cleveland Clinic explains, “When you eat too much salt which contains sodium, your body holds extra water to ‘wash’ the salt from your body. In some people, this may cause blood pressure to rise. The added water puts stress on your heart and blood vessels.”
There have been a lot more studies on the benefits of lowering sodium intake than increasing it. Your healthcare professional is your best resource for determining what the best diet is for you and your family. The rumblings on the internet indicate that other studies will be conducted. So, for now, although it’s very interesting and well written, take the McMaster’s study with a grain of salt.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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