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Too little salt could be bad for you, claims report

By Anthony Fletcher , 29-Mar-2006

A new study into the effects of salt intake suggests that people who reported eating less salt than is recommended by UK and US government guidelines were 37 per cent more likely to die from cardiovascular causes than those who ate more.

Dr Hillel Cohen and colleagues from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, including Dr Michael Alderman, president of the International Society of Hypertension, completed the follow-up study from data from the National Health & Nutrition Examination Surveys in the US.

The Salt Manufacturers' Association says that their conclusions should raise major questions over the safety of current UK policy to encourage population-wide salt reduction.

However some health campaigners would disagree.

"There is clear evidence that salt intake is linked to high blood pressure - one of the main risk factors for heart disease," said Peter Hollins, director general of the British Heart Foundation.

"It remains important for people to reduce levels of salt in food preparation and at the table."

Indeed, these new UK voluntary salt reduction targets are designed to achieve just this. The UK's Food Standards Agency says they will help progression towards the target of bringing down the average UK salt intake to 6g a day.

It claims that in the UK, at least 26 million people are eating too much salt and that processed foods contribute about 75 per cent of salt intake.

But the scientists behind the new study claim that there is no concrete proof that lower salt diets protect against death from heart and artery disease, though they admit that their findings fall short of proving that, inversely, restricting sodium is bad for your health.

Nonetheless, Dr Cohen believes the findings should raise questions over the need for blanket salt restriction advice given by both the UK and US governments.

"It is increasingly evident that one size doesnt fit all when it comes to diet," he said.

"This was an observational study, and not a clinical trial, so we cant really conclude from our findings that low-sodium intakes are harmful. But our study certainly doesnt support the idea of a universal prescription for lower salt intake."

He claims that the study shows that, even after adjusting for total calorie intake, age, and smoking status, people who had less than the recommended daily salt intake were significantly more likely to have died from cardiovascular causes than people who ate more salt.

Although the link between a lower salt diet and a higher risk of death was not seen among non-whites, obese persons, and those under the age of 55 when enrolled in the study, no single sub-group appeared to benefit from eating a diet that was lower in sodium.

Cohen theorises that low-sodium diets raise the kidney's levels of renin, a protein involved with increasing blood pressure when sodium levels are low.

The results, published in the American Journal of Medicine, will be unveiled by Dr Cohen at a medical convention in San Francisco, which runs from 1st to 5th April.

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