Nov. 28, 2022 – Simply limiting shakes of salt at the table may help lower the risk of heart disease, new research suggests.
Using less added salt appeared to have the biggest effect on two common kinds of heart disease: heart failure and ischemic heart disease, also known as hardening of the arteries, which slows blood flow to the heart. But the research found that putting such limits on salt did not affect the risk of having a stroke.
The new research, from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans, was published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
"Overall, we found that people who don't shake on a little additional salt to their foods very often had a much lower risk of heart disease events, regardless of lifestyle factors and pre-existing disease," says co-author Lu Qi, MD, PhD, a professor at Tulane.
You Don't Have to Eliminate It Altogether
That's good news, because it suggests that just adding less salt to food – not removing it entirely – can make a difference without too big a sacrifice, Qi said in a statement.
Even those who followed a DASH-style diet to lower their blood pressure further reduced their heart disease risk when they held back the salt at the table, the researchers found.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and people following it focus on foods rich in protein, calcium, potassium, fiber, and magnesium and avoid foods high in sodium, added sugar, and saturated fat.
People who didn't add salt at the table very often and also followed the DASH diet had the lowest heart disease risk of the people studied, the researchers say.
The researchers found there was an even stronger link between adding salt to foods and heart disease risk when people were current smokers or had a lower social and economic status.
There's already lots of evidence linking high sodium to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But studies looking at the link have had conflicting results because it's been hard for researchers to find out how much salt people consume over many years.
A previous study by the same research team reported that people who added salt to foods more often had a higher risk of dying early from any cause and a lower life expectancy. This study builds on that and focuses on how more added salt over the long term affects heart disease risk.
For the study, researchers surveyed 176,570 people from the United Kingdom Biobank database who did not have cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study. They were asked about how often they added salt to their food, not including salt used in cooking. They could answer never/rarely; sometimes; usually; or always.
They also were asked if they had made major changes to their diet in the last 5 years and were asked to recall what they ate and drank over the last 24 hours.
The researchers analyzed heart disease events through medical histories, data on hospital admissions, answers on questionnaires, and death register data.
Sara Ghoneim, MD, a gastroenterology fellow at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, wrote in an editorial that this study is promising for people in both high- and low-income countries.
"The economic burden of CVD [cardiovascular disease] is considerable and continues to increase in prevalence," she wrote.
Ghoneim pointed out that a drawback of the study is that people were asked to report their own level of salt use and that they came from the database in the United Kingdom, so it's uncertain whether other populations would have the same results.