Salt has long been one of the great villains of the American diet, and the rules of engagement have come down to one rather bland pronouncement: Eat less of it. This, of course, is easier said than done. On average, adults consume 3,463 milligrams of sodium per day — 50 percent more than the recommended maximum of 2,300 milligrams for adults 50 and younger and more than twice the 1,500 milligrams suggested as the upper limit for roughly half of the adult population (including everyone over 50; all African Americans; and people with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or hypertension). But now comes a splashy report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, concluding that scaling back to 1,500 milligrams may not be necessary. Is the war on salt ending? Here’s what you should know.
“There’s no data — none — showing that curtailing sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams provides better health outcomes,” says Brian Strom, MD, chair of the IOM’s report committee. The report looked at 34 studies and four clinical trials that tracked the health of people consuming different amounts of salt over the course of up to 18 years. The conclusion: There isn’t enough convincing evidence that people — even those in high-risk groups — who consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day have fewer heart attacks or strokes than those who consume higher amounts.
After all, the American Heart Association (AHA) cautions that excessive sodium intake can cause the following health risks:
– enlarged heart muscle
– high blood pressure
– stomach cancer
– kidney stones
– heart disease
– kidney disease
Many people forget that sodium is an essential nutrient serving a multitude of functions in the body, including helping control heart rate and aiding the transmission of signals in the brain. And too little salt may pose surprising health risks. One 2011 study, which tracked 28,880 people with heart disease or diabetes, found that those who consumed less than 2,000 milligrams of sodium a day were 37 percent more likely to die of heart disease than those who consumed 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams. As sodium intake drops, blood levels of cholesterol and fat can increase, escalating cardiovascular issues.
For years studies have repeatedly shown that a low-sodium diet can reduce blood pressure, but the IOM’s findings looked beyond risk factors. “No one disputes that lowering sodium intake has a modestly positive effect on blood pressure,” says Michael Alderman, MD, a professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “But that one benefit doesn’t offset consequences, including increased cholesterol and insulin resistance, that can come with cutting almost all the salt from our diet.”
Sodium has surprises for people
There is a growing body of evidence that indicate the reality that a salt-restricted diet plan might not be the best for long-lasting health. The Journal of the American Medical Association just recently noted a connection in between a low-sodium diet plan and a higher mortality rate from cardiovascular causes. This information pointed to an increase in hospitalization for cardiovascular concerns for those individuals who had low salt consumption compared with those who had a moderate amount of salt in their diets.
In addition, a current study cited in the American Journal of High blood pressure discovered that diet plans low in salt resulted in greater levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the plasma. The scientists concluded that these higher levels of hormonal agents and lipids in the blood negate the results of the somewhat lower high blood pressure seen in patients who limit their salt intake greatly.
Just like many health recommendations, it is maybe best to exercise small amounts when it concerns the quantity of salt in the diet plan.