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Salty Diet Linked to Stroke Risk

Study Puts New Focus on Health Risks of Getting Too Much Salt
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 9, 2011 (Los Angeles) -- Fewer than 2 teaspoons of salt a day may raise your risk of stroke.

In a study of over 2,600 people, those who got more than 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day were about two-and-one-half times more likely to have a stroke than those who got less than 1,500 milligrams a day.

One teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium.

Interestingly, the results held true regardless of whether a person had high blood pressure, says study researcher Hannah Gardener, ScD, an epidemiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Salty diets have been linked to high blood pressure, a major stroke risk factor.

The findings were presented at the American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference (ISC).

How Much Salt Is Healthy?

The study doesn't prove cause and effect. People who eat a lot of salt may share some other characteristic that places them at increased risk for stroke.

Still, "it looks like even small changes in salt intake can make a difference in stroke risk," says Steven Greenberg, MD, PhD, vice chair of the ISC meeting committee and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

So how much salt should you have? The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. And the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for less than 2,300 milligrams a day for most people; 1,500 milligrams a day for those over 50 or who have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.

If the new findings are any indication, we’re not doing too well at meeting those goals. A staggering 88% of participants said they got more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day and 21% got more than 4,000 milligrams a day.

Measuring Salt Intake

The study involved 2,657 participants in the Northern Manhattan Study. At the start of the study, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire that included questions about how much salt they consumed.

Over the next 10 years, 227 participants suffered an ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke. It occurs when a clot blocks blood flow to a region of the brain.

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