Low salt diet does not reduce heart disease, study finds
A new European study published in the May 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that a low salt diet increases the death rate from cardiovascular disease and fails to prevent high blood pressure. These startling findings, reported by The New York Times, are diametrically opposed to traditional medical thought, which for decades has spurred doctors to recommend a restricted salt diet to their patients. Limitations and problems in the study, however, have fueled the debate over the salt issue.
The study observed 3,681 healthy, middle aged Europeans for an average of 7.9 years. Investigators determined the sodium intake of the participants by measuring the quantity of sodium found in the urine over a 24 hour period. Researchers found as inverse relationship between the amount of sodium consumed and the death rate from heart disease. Those eating the lowest amount of salt had the highest heart mortality, while participants eating the greatest quantity of salt had the lowest.
Furthermore, those consuming the greatest amount of salt exhibited only a tiny elevation in systolic blood pressure and did not display a greater likelihood of developing hypertension.
Two flaws are present in the study, according to CBS News. Investigators only measured sodium in the urine twice during the study. As levels of this mineral can vary markedly from day to day, they may not have collected enough data to make an accurate assessment. The second limitation is that the participants were all white, relatively young and weighed less than the average American. Even with these limitations, the findings add confusion to the public salt debate.
Prominent members of the American medical community have strongly criticized the study. Dr. Peter Briss, a medical director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, points out the small size of the study and the fact that the participants all started out healthy. He states that the results are contradictory to a body of evidence showing that elevated sodium consumption raises cardiovascular disease rates.
Conversely, not every member of the medical community is discounting the study. Dr. Michael Alderman, editor of the American Journal of Hypertension, notes that medical literature on the health effects of salt is inconsistent. He observes that the new study is not the first to discover detrimental health effects from a low salt diet.
Dr. Alderman conducted a study of high blood pressure patients and found that those who consumed the least amount of salt had the greatest likelihood of death. He contends that a large study is needed to ascertain the effects of salt. The debate goes on.