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Heart Disease Health Center

New Research Calls Salt Guidelines Into Question

Study Suggests Reducing Sodium May Increase Unhealthy Blood Fats; Critics Say Study Is Flawed
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"Furthermore, reduced salt intake leads to an increase in lipids [blood fats], which is bigger than the reducing effect on blood pressure. Therefore it is likely that reduced salt intake does not have a beneficial effect. On the contrary the net effect may be harmful," says Graudal, who is a senior consultant in the departments of rheumatology and internal medicine at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark.

The study is published in the American Journal of Hypertension.

Should the FDA Regulate Sodium in Food?

The study is being released just a day before the FDA is scheduled to hear public testimony on reducing sodium in the food supply.

The CDC says more than 90% of Americans eat more sodium than government guidelines recommend.

Public health experts say high sodium diets are one reason that about one in three American adults has blood pressure levels that are higher than normal.

High blood pressure increases the risk for killers like heart attacks and strokes.

The FDA doesn't regulate the amount of sodium in food. But in recent months a chorus of public health groups, including the Institute of Medicine and the American Public Health Association, has called on the agency to step in to force food manufacturers to lower the amount of sodium they add to prepared and processed foods.

Last week, in a news release, Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, called the high amounts of salt in processed foods "the single deadliest ingredient in the food supply, contributing to the premature deaths of tens of thousands of Americans each year."

But food industry representatives and some independent scientists say salt has become a red herring in heart disease prevention. They say calls to regulate it aren't being based on sound science.

"All the figures that you see that are associated with the benefits of salt reduction are not really benefits associated with salt reduction, they are benefits associated with blood pressure reduction," says Morton Satin, vice president of research at the Salt Institute, which is based in Alexandria, Va.

Satin agrees that reducing high blood pressure is important for health. But he says there are better ways to do it besides cutting out salt.

"There is an impact of reducing salt that is beyond simple blood pressure reduction," Satin says. "Using salt as the main lifestyle means of reducing blood pressure does have negative consequences, and that's really the issue."

Graudal says that's exactly the point. Since doctors don't really understand all the health effects of lowering dietary sodium, they say it's premature to be considering regulation of sodium in the food supply.

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