Cutting table salt tied to lower risk of heart disease

28 Nov. 2022 – Simply limiting salt shakes at the table may help lower the risk of heart disease, new research suggests.

Cutting back on added salt was found to have the greatest effect on two common types of heart disease: heart failure and ischemic heart disease, also known as hardening of the arteries, which slows blood flow to the heart. But the study found that setting such limits on salt had no impact on stroke risk.

The new research, from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans, was published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

“Overall, we found that people who didn’t add a little extra salt to their food tended to have a much lower risk of heart disease, regardless of lifestyle factors and pre-existing illnesses,” said study co-author Lu Qi, MD, PhD, a professor at Tulane.

You don’t have to eliminate it completely

That’s good news, as it suggests that just adding less salt to food — not removing it completely — can make a difference without too much of a sacrifice, Qi said in a statement.

Even those who followed a DASH-like diet to lower their blood pressure further reduced their risk of heart disease if they withheld the salt at the table, the researchers found.

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and people who follow it focus on foods rich in protein, calcium, potassium, fiber and magnesium and avoid foods high in sodium, added sugars and saturated fat.

People who did not often add salt to the table and also followed the DASH diet had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease of the people studied, the researchers say.

The researchers found that there was an even stronger link between adding salt to food and the risk of cardiovascular disease when people smoked or had a lower social and economic status at the time.

Conflicting results

There is already a lot of evidence linking high sodium levels to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But studies looking at the link have produced conflicting results, as it’s been hard for researchers to figure out how much salt people consume over many years.

A previous study reported by the same research team that people who added salt to food more often had a higher risk of dying early from any cause and a lower life expectancy. This study builds on that and focuses on how more added salt affects the risk of cardiovascular disease in the long term.

For the study, researchers surveyed 176,570 people from the UK’s Biobank database who had no cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. They were asked how often they added salt to their food, not including salt used in cooking. They could never/rarely answer; sometimes; usual; or always.

They were also asked if they had made any major changes to their diet in the past 5 years and were asked to recall what they ate and drank in the past 24 hours.

The researchers analyzed events related to heart disease using medical histories, hospitalization data, questionnaire responses and death registries data.

Sara Ghoneim, MD, a gastroenterology fellow at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, wrote in an editorial that this study holds promise for people in both high and low income countries.

“The economic burden of CVD [cardiovascular disease] is significant and continues to increase in prevalence,” she wrote.

Ghoneim pointed out that one downside of the study is that people were asked to report their own level of salt consumption and they came from the UK database, so it’s uncertain whether other populations would have the same results.

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