Please pass the salt

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Salt often gets a bad rep in some ‘health’ circles, as a danger to our hearts, blood pressure and a number of other issues. How true is this really? It’s been credited for increasing blood pressure leading to heart attacks, strokes and heart failure. There are also studies that have linked salt intake to stomach cancer, osteoporosis, obesity and kidney stones. Is the little jar of white powder we pass across the table really that bad for us? Is that all salt has to offer us?

Life as we know it is made up of salt, with the tissues of animals containing larger quantities of salt than plant tissues. It is important to note that sodium has a vital role to play as an electrolyte and osmotic solute, which facilitates fluid ‘flows’ throughout our bodies. At a point in history salt was one of the most expensive commodities available to man, showing its value in influencing the flavours of food. Despite all the negative press, small amounts of salt are actually essential for our health, with an adult needing just less than 1g per day. The problem comes in when the average American eats, and drinks, over 8.5grams per day. The institute of medicine has even urged the FDA to legally limit the amount of salt put into every day foods.

A meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. European researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the less sodium that study subjects excreted in their urine—an excellent measure of prior consumption—the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease. These findings call into question the common wisdom that excess salt is bad for you, but the evidence linking salt to heart disease has always been tenuous.

Common salt is a chemical compound composed primarily of sodium chloride, a compound belonging to the larger class of salts. Salt in its natural form however is known as rock salt or halite, the crystalline mineral is salts natural form.

In 2004 the Cochrane Collaboration, an international, independent, not-for-profit health care research organization, published a review of 11 salt-reduction trials. Over the long-term, low-salt diets, compared to normal diets, decreased systolic blood pressure (the top number in the blood pressure ratio) in healthy people by 1.1 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by 0.6 mmHg. That is like going from 120/80 to 119/79. The review concluded that “intensive interventions, unsuited to primary care or population prevention programs, provide only minimal reductions in blood pressure during long-term trials.” A 2003 Cochrane review of 57 shorter-term trials similarly concluded that “there is little evidence for long-term benefit from reducing salt intake.”

Lawrence Appel, an epidemiologist at John Hopkins University and the chair of the salt committee for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans says the problem is that individuals vary greatly in how their bodies respond to salt; “It’s tough to nail these associations” admits Lawrence. Some people seem to have a predisposition to the negative effects of salt, and by the overall population decreasing their salt intake, it is thought to have the potential to save the lives of over 60 000 Americans per year, as per those hyper sensitive to salt.

Since studies are so variable, and results as much so, it is important to exercise caution when consuming large quantities of salt. The recommended daily intake is set to be no more than 6g’s per day, so if consuming more than that and you are suffering with any heart-related conditions or high blood pressure, it is recommended that you consult your physician.




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