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Studies Question Need to Watch Your Salt

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WebMD Health News

Aug. 14, 2014 -- Worried about your salt intake? You may not need to be.

A trio of studies has given us a clearer picture of the relationship between salt and heart health.

Although we’ve been told for years to watch our salt, experts say new research questions that.

“You don’t need to be freaking out about salt,” says Suzanne Oparil, MD, a cardiologist and blood pressure expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Why? Two of the new studies found that for most people -- especially those younger than 55 and those who don’t have high blood pressure -- there’s a sweet spot for sodium in the range of 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams a day. As long as sodium intake stays in that range, there seems to be little impact on the heart or blood pressure, those studies found. 

In comparison, a teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 milligrams of sodium.

And the good news is that most of us are already there. According to the CDC, the average American gets about 3,400 milligrams a day. And 95% of Americans get less than 6,000 milligrams a day, according to the U.S. government.

Those two studies gauged the amount of sodium eaten by more than 100,000 people in 17 different countries by measuring the sodium in their urine. Researchers then looked at their blood pressure and the number of heart attacks, strokes, cases of heart failure, and deaths they had over the next 4 years.

A third study combined the results of more than 200 previous studies of sodium from around the world. The study researchers then compared average intakes to rates of heart disease and high blood pressure.

That study found higher rates of heart problems and high blood pressure linked to sodium, but experts say the conclusions are based on estimations rather than direct measurements, so the results should be viewed with caution. “They didn’t really study anything, they just put together the results of a large number of observational studies and surveys. They maneuvered the data,” Oparil says.

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.  

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