Reducing salt intake by 1g per day may lower risk of heart disease

  • China has one of the highest salt consumption levels worldwide.
  • Excessive salt intake can lead to health issues such as strokes and heart attacks.
  • Researchers analyzed how much people should reduce their daily salt intake to lower their risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • The findings show that cutting salt intake by 1 gram per day could save millions of lives.

The Chinese government has a plan called Healthy China 2030 which focuses on improving the health of its citizens and reducing deaths related to dietary habits. One area the government wants to see improvement in is salt intake.

According to a new study published in the BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health journal, computer models show that reducing salt intake by just 1 gram per day could reduce 9 million cardiac events and save 4 million lives by 2030.

Quick facts about salt

Salt, also known as sodium chloride, is a necessary part of one’s diet. Salt occurs naturally in some foods, such as beats and milk, and food manufacturers often add it to processed foods.

The mineral is important for many reasons, including that it helps balance fluid levels in the body.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “The human body requires a small amount of sodium to conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals.”

While the body needs a certain amount of salt to perform necessary functions, moderation is key.

Per Dietary Guidelines for Americans, people ages 14 and up should consume 2,300mg of sodium daily. Consuming excessive salt can cause health issues such as kidney stones, elevated blood pressure, and heart disease.

Dr. Ernst von Schwarz, a board certified cardiologist in Los Angeles, spoke with Medical News Today and explained the effects of excessive salt intake.

“Salt intake, in general, has been associated with hypertension and increased cardiovascular risk factors which in turn lead to atherosclerosis, heart disease, and cardiovascular death, which represents the number one cause of death in the world,” commented Dr. von Schwarz.

Salt study findings

Dr. Monique Tan from the Queen Mary University of London led the study. Dr. Tan and her fellow researchers used computer modeling to determine the salt reduction necessary for Chinese citizens to see a major health benefit.

According to the study authors, Chinese citizens consume approximately 11g of salt per day, which is more than twice what the World Health Organization recommends.

The authors mention that cardiovascular disease accounts for 40% of deaths in China. Since excessive salt can cause heart problems, they accessed data from other heart studies for their models.

The key for the authors was modeling data that supported reducing systolic blood pressure (SBP), which is the top number on a blood pressure reading. This data is important because elevated systolic blood pressure is associated with increased cardiac events, and excessive salt intake can increase SBP.

“To develop our model, we extracted the effect of salt reduction on SBP from a meta-regression of randomized trials and a population study, and that of SBP on CVD risk from pooled cohort studies,” write the authors.

The study modeling showed that reducing salt intake by 1g could lower the risk for ischaemic heart disease by 4% and the risk of stroke by 6%.

The authors say that if people maintain this 1g reduction until 2030, 9 million cardiovascular disease cases can be prevented. They estimate that 4 million of those cases would have been fatal, so a 1g salt reduction could save 4 million lives in China by 2030.

“The evidence for the substantial benefits of salt reduction in China is consistent and compelling. Achieving and sustaining population salt reduction in China could prevent millions of unnecessary cardiovascular events and deaths. Given the sheer size of the Chinese population, this would also bring major benefits to global health,” write the authors.

Not only can reducing salt intake lower cardiovascular disease and deaths, but it would also help relieve stress on the healthcare system.

Study limitations 

The authors noted that their study had a limitation: their computer models could not account for all potential health gains as part of the 1g salt reduction plan.

For example, the authors noted a connection between higher salt intake and increased blood pressure. They wrote that reducing salt intake should also reduce “the rise in blood pressure associated with aging,” but their computer models could not quantify this.

Dr. Richard Wright, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, spoke with MNT about the study findings and mentioned the limitations he saw in the study.

“This is an intriguing analysis, but the conclusions need to be taken with a grain of salt,” Dr. Wright commented.

“Part of the problem with their paper is the use of data accumulated over just a few weeks of salt restriction and extending the purported benefits of such restriction to what might be expected over the following years,” said Dr. Wright. “In reality, an analysis such as the one in this paper is speculative, and could be predictive of a true effect, but experiments that would truly prove that salt reduction reduces cardiovascular events are impossible to undertake in humans.”

Taking steps to reduce salt intake

“Sodium is found naturally in almost all foods and certain food types such as bread, certain meats, and snacks are very high in sodium,” Dr. von Schwarz told MNT.

While people expect certain foods to have a lot of salt, they might be surprised to learn that some bread has a higher sodium content. With that in mind, people interested in reducing their salt intake can start by paying attention to the sodium content in the foods they consume by checking the nutrition labels.

If they notice the sodium content is high, they can choose to avoid the food or plan to consume foods with a lower salt content for the rest of the day.

People can also try to be more aware of how much salt they add to their food when cooking. Seasoning packets often have a higher sodium content, which people might not realize since they are not directly adding salt to their food.

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