by Mary West
May 14, 2011
A new European study published in the
May 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association,
found that a low salt diet increases the death rate from
cardiovascular disease and fails to prevent high blood pressure.
These startling findings, reported by The New York Times, are
diametrically opposed to traditional medical thought, which for
decades has spurred doctors to recommend a restricted salt diet to
their patients. Limitations and problems in the study, however, have
fueled the debate over the salt issue.
The study observed 3,681 healthy, middle aged Europeans for an
average of 7.9 years. Investigators determined the sodium intake of
the participants by measuring the quantity of sodium found in the
urine over a 24 hour period. Researchers found as inverse
relationship between the amount of sodium consumed and the death
rate from heart disease.
Those eating the lowest amount of salt had
the highest heart mortality, while participants eating the greatest
quantity of salt had the lowest.
Furthermore, those consuming the greatest amount of salt exhibited
only a tiny elevation in systolic blood pressure and did not display
a greater likelihood of developing hypertension.
Two flaws are present in the study, according to CBS News.
Investigators only measured sodium in the urine twice during the
study. As levels of this mineral can vary markedly from day to day,
they may not have collected enough data to make an accurate
assessment. The second limitation is that the participants were all
white, relatively young and weighed less than the average American.
Even with these limitations, the findings add confusion to the
public salt debate.
Prominent members of the American medical community have strongly
criticized the study. Dr. Peter Briss, a medical director at the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, points out the small
size of the study and the fact that the participants all started out
He states that the results are contradictory to
a body of
evidence showing that elevated sodium consumption raises
cardiovascular disease rates.
Conversely, not every member of the medical community is discounting
Dr. Michael Alderman, editor of the
American Journal of
Hypertension, notes that medical literature on the health effects of
salt is inconsistent. He observes that the new study is not the
first to discover detrimental health effects from a low salt diet.
Dr. Alderman conducted a study of high blood pressure patients and
found that those who consumed the least amount of salt had the
greatest likelihood of death. He contends that a large study is
needed to ascertain the effects of salt.
The debate goes on.