Take salt dogma with a grain or two

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Even though the American Heart Association is now advising that people ingest no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily, you don’t have to throw away that saltshaker just yet. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association followed nearly 3,700 people for about eight years and tested their urine sodium excretion — an accurate means of estimating sodium ingestion. Researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium found that even though systolic blood pressure was slightly lower in individuals who excreted less sodium, their risk of cardiovascular death was actually greater than those who excreted (ingested) less salt.

These counterintuitive results serve as at least one piece of evidence against supporting a salt reduction recommendation for the general population. According to lead author Jan A. Staessen, “If you lower sodium to lower pressure, you can activate several systems that conserve sodium, and those systems are implicated in disease processes such as damaging the arterial wall and kidneys.”

“The processes he refers to involve the kidney- and adrenal gland-generated renin-angiotensin-aldosterone cascade, and it’s quite well-known among kidney and blood pressure specialists,” ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross notes. He also agrees that trying to cut everyone’s sodium intake can have serious repercussions. “There is at least a sub-population of people who will suffer from a low sodium diet. Though there may be some overall benefit in reducing sodium consumption as far as blood pressure is concerned, these generalized recommendations should not be blithely applied to the whole population, as some in government would do.”