Cut salt – cut heart risk

Take a pass on the salt and you could reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by a quarter or more, a study says.

Salt may be worse for us than we thought, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. In fact, over-indulging with the salt shaker could be responsible for 25 per cent or more of heart attacks, strokes and coronary artery disease, researchers found.

The U.S. based study looked at more than 3,000 people with borderline high blood pressure. In two trials dating back to the 1990s, researchers looked at one group who reduced their sodium by 25 to 35 per cent, compared with control groups that did not.

People who ate a salt-reduced diet were 25 per cent to 30 per cent less likely to develop cardiovascular problems after a follow up 10 to 15 years later, the study found. They also had a 20 per cent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Since the participants had pre-hypertension, they were already at higher risk of developing heart problems.

“Results of our follow-up study reinforce recommendations to lower dietary sodium intake as a means of preventing cardiovascular disease in the general population,” said Dr. Nancy Cook of Harvard Medical School and her team.

The findings are “absolutely dramatic” according to the Canadian Stroke Network. “A 25 per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease risk is huge,” Kevin Willis, acting executive director of the Ottawa-based network, told CanWest.

“The number of lives saved and cost to the health-care system would be staggering. And all of that by the relatively trivial thing of simply cutting back on the amount of salt in people’s diets.”

The study also found that people on reduced sodium diets during the original trials were more likely to stay on the lower-salt diet in the long term. Many reported 10 to 15 years later that they didn’t like the taste of salty foods and usually or always used low sodium products.

Canadians binging on salt
Salt is composed of sodium and chloride, and it’s the sodium that causes vessels to tighten, making blood flow through the body more difficult. Salt also has an established effect on blood pressure.

A Statistics Canada report said Canadians were putting themselves at risk of serious health risks by eating sodium-packed foods. A relatively small group of foods accounted for close to a third of all the sodium Canadians consumed, including pizza, submarine sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs.

In total, the national Canadian average for daily sodium intake registered at 3,092 milligrams, 30 per cent more than the recommended daily limit. Men consumed more sodium than women at above 4,100 mg a day for men aged 14 to 30, compared with just over 2,900 mg for women.

Even young children are getting too much sodium, according to the report. 77 per cent of children from ages one to three were found to exceed the recommended daily limit.

The average American and British diet also exceeds the recommended limit.