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Heart Benefits From Cutting Back on Salt?

Study Shows Reducing Salt Lowers Blood Pressure; Evidence Inconclusive on Preventing Heart Disease

Perspective of American Heart Association

In a statement issued today, the American Heart Association (AHA) points out some shortcomings of the study. The studies included mostly middle-aged white or Asian people, for instance, yet high blood pressure is more common among older Americans and African-Americans. Also, the organization says the follow-up may not have been long enough, as heart disease and stroke risk develop slowly.

The American Heart Association stands by its sodium advisory issued earlier this year, according to a spokesperson.

The AHA calls for consumers, the U.S. government and the food industry to step up efforts to reduce salt intake.

The AHA recommends the general population eat no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. It cites ill effects of excess salt on blood pressure and a higher risk of kidney disease, stroke, and heart attack.

Currently, Americans eat more than two times the recommended maximum of 1,500 milligrams daily, according to the AHA.

A fast-food double cheeseburger, for instance, has about 1,051 milligrams of sodium, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The study results won't change the advice given by Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "Based on this study, I will continue to advise people to reduce the amount of salt in their diet," she tells WebMD.

She points to the reduction in blood pressure found. Based on that, she says, she would expect a health benefit. "More studies need to be done," she agrees. "But at this point, I think we really need to continue to advise salt reduction."

Gordon Tomaselli, MD, president of the American Heart Association and chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says he will not change his advice for patients. "I would still tell people they should continue to keep the salt in their diet low."

While the AHA recommends 1,500 milligrams a day maximum for everyone, he says the USDA recommendation is to limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams for the general population but less than 1,500 milligrams for people age 51 or older and people of any age who are African-American or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.

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