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Studies Question Need to Watch Your Salt

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Findings Question Current Advice on Salt

The idea that many of us don’t need to worry about how much salt we eat is contrary to years of efforts by public health officials to get people to eat less salt.

For that reason, Oparil says she expects the studies, which followed more than 100,000 people for nearly 4 years, will face plenty of criticism.

“A lot of the experts have a strong vested interest in the ‘salt hypothesis,’” she says, or the idea that higher levels of salt in the diet lead to higher blood pressure and more heart attacks and strokes.  

The new studies aren’t in conflict with the idea that salt raises blood pressure.  

“We’re not challenging the blood pressure contention here. We’re seeing it, too. We’re seeing a clear association between sodium intake and blood pressure,” says Martin O’Donnell, an associate professor at McMaster University in Canada who was an author of two of the studies.

But at moderate levels, less than 6,000 milligrams a day, the effect of salt on blood pressure appears to be small. Eating less, he says, doesn’t seem to prevent heart attacks, strokes, or deaths.

U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that most Americans limit their salt intake to 2,300 milligrams a day. People with health concerns like high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease are told to get even less, about 1,500 milligrams a day.

The American Heart Association’s advice is even more conservative.  They say everybody should eat less than 1,500 milligrams a day (unless they lose a lot of salt through sweat, like athletes and people who work in the heat.)

But the new studies found that very few -- less than 1% -- of people around the world are hitting those goals.  

What’s more, the studies found that people with low sodium intakes appeared to be at higher risk for heart attacks, strokes, and death than people who were getting a moderate amount of salt in their diets.

Experts aren’t sure why low-salt diets may harm the heart.

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