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Don’t Hold the Salt, New Study Re-Opens Sodium Debate

Measuring out your sodium intakeYou’ve probably come across a number of articles talking about the negative side effects of a diet that is too high in sodium. If you’re living with a chronic illness like high blood pressure (hypertension), this certainly shouldn’t be anything new. This is what makes the results of this recent study so fascinating, because it appears that the recommended daily sodium intake may be a little too strict.

The results of a new clinical study suggests that a healthy individual could eat nearly twice the recommended daily intake of sodium. Too put it more plainly, the amount most people here in Alabama are already consuming on a daily basis is actually okay. These findings are controversial (to say the least) since this could significantly undercut the public health messages that have been released over the last few years.

This study was conducted by research teams in several spots around the world, including one at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). While there is still a relationship between salt intake and hypertension, people who are under the age of 60 and relatively healthy won’t be impacted when eating a moderate level of salt every day (3,000 to 6,000 mg).

(The data shows that people within this range had a lower risk of death than those who ate either more than 6,000 mg or less than 3,000 mg daily.)

Are Sodium Intake Recommendations Too Low?

Most people fit within this given range, but the current federal guidelines recommend 1,500-2,300 milligrams per day. The American Heart Association has taken position at the lowest spectrum recommending 1,500 mg. This recent study showed that only 4 percent of the 100,000 respondents actually stuck to these recommendations.

(Quick Fact: The American Heart Association has publicly objected to this study’s findings.)

Family eating a high sodium mealThere’s a good reason for this, because the validity of these new results would suggest that these efforts to lower the salt content in food products was misguided. The motivation was to help improve the nation’s overall heart health (something that has been getting worse), but it also prompted more research and the results have made things a lot more complicated.

“My personal bias is that there are so many more important things we could do,” explains Dr. Suzanne Oparil, a renowned cardiologist from UAB. “A diet that reduces sugary drinks and approaches the Mediterranean diet will give you more benefit rather than regulating the salt aspect of the diet.”

(Quick Fact: There are people that ingest close to 12 grams of salt on a daily basis, and this is extremely harmful.)

“There is no question that very large amounts of salt, especially if you are not eating potassium concomitantly, will drive blood pressure up,” adds Dr. Oparil. “High blood pressure is associated with cardiovascular disease, but the correlation is strongest in people with high blood pressure and people who are older.”

The Debate Over Salt Continues

The president of the American Heart Association, Dr. Elliot Antman, has noted some flaws in this international clinical study, such as:

  • Measuring sodium intake with urine sample
  • Drawing conclusions from observational analysis
  • The length of the study period

Oparil doesn’t deny that there were some drawbacks to the design of their study, but argues that the pure size of the database means it could be the most valuable data they could collect on the subject. She also plans to extend their research in order to better understand the long-term effects of this type of sodium intake.

Antman has publicly endorsed a different study– one that suggested that a daily diet exceeding 2,000 mg/day of sodium was linked to 1.6 million cardiovascular related deaths in 2010. Oparil has argued that this data was flawed.

In any case, the American Association has stated that it will stand behind its recommendation and will continue to petition the government to do the same. To their credit, this research would need more data to be fully substantiated, and other studies have provided evidence that suggests that lower daily sodium is linked to reduced blood pressure and long-term heart health.

Dr. Oparil and her team at UAB seem to be take a simpler approach: “Try to eat natural foods. Cook your own food, as opposed to eating fast food and snack foods.”

It’s hard to argue when you look at instances in other parts of the world. Take the country of Japan for example. Studies show that the Japanese (on average) have one of the largest daily intakes of sodium in the world, and they also have one of the longest lifespans.

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