Table salt shaker
A Belgian study claims that sodium may not cause heart disease, but the study should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

A new study has found that maintaining a low-sodium diet doesn’t reduce the risk of heart disease. A European study found that not only did low sodium diets not actually decrease risk for heart attack, the people who consumed the least sodium had the greater risk of a heart attack. The link between salt intake and heart disease is not as clear as once thought.

Study found high sodium intake had little effect on rate of heart attack

A Belgian study being published in the Journal of the American Medical Association turns conventional wisdom on its ear regarding dietary sodium intake and the link to heart disease. A group of doctors monitored patients at or below the age of 60 for about eight years and kept tabs on their sodium intake, according to CNN, by performing regular urine analysis tests. The group of patients who regularly had high levels of sodium in urinalysis tests did not have a higher risk of a cardiac event such as a heart attack. In fact, those patients with the lowest sodium intake had a 56 percent higher chance of having a heart attack.

Don’t reach for the shaker yet

The study included controls for other factors that contribute to heart disease and still found a higher risk for heart attack in patients with low sodium diets. However, the medical community has pointed out some problems with the study. The Centers for Disease Control, according to the New York Times, observes that the study may be too small to prove anything, as it involved fewer than 4,000 people, the average age of the subjects was 40, and very few of them had a cardiac episode of any sort. Also, urinalysis of sodium is only indicative of sodium levels on the day of the urine test. The study subjects were mostly relatively fit European Caucasians, and American studies have found that other ethnic groups are put at higher risk of heart disease with a high sodium intake.

Focus on hypertension

The movement to reduce salt intake in the American diet is not entirely about salt, but rather hypertension. Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, increases the pressure inside veins, arteries and the heart, causing structural strain that can lead to a cardiac event such as a heart attack or a stroke, according to WebMD. Salt intake and hypertension have long been known to be connected, and the Belgian study noted that subjects with the highest sodium intake had higher blood pressure. Because obesity and heart disease are serious problems for many Americans, there is a very good case for passing on the salt.



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