I’m being sarcastic, right? The official health
wisdom — the wisdom everybody knows is right (because all
the top health officials repeat it over and over again) — is that
if you “restrict” the salt in your diet, you’ll live longer.
That’s because (once again, according to those official
pronouncements) your blood pressure will be lower, putting
you at less risk for a heart attack or stroke, the #1 and #3
causes of death in the U.S.
There’s only one problem with that widespread “health
wisdom,” as I’ve been telling my patients and readers for many
years. It’s not true! And a recent article in the May 4, 2011 issue
of the Journal of the American Medical Association is the latest
evidence to run counter to the medical (and mistaken) myth
of “Low Salt Good, High Salt Bad.”
Low-Salt Diet = 4X Death Rate From Heart Disease
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of
Leuven in Belgium. First, they measured the urinary sodium
levels of 3,681 healthy people in their 40s. Then they tracked
their health for the next eight years. The folks with the highest
urinary sodium levels — a sign of a higher dietary intake of
salt — had the lowest risk of developing heart disease. Looked
at another way, the low-sodium folks had four times the rate
of dying from heart disease, compared to the high-salt folks.
The conclusion of the researchers was straightforward:
“Our current findings refute the estimates of lives saved and
health care costs reduced with lower salt intake. They do not
support the current recommendations of a generalized and
indiscriminate reduction of salt intake.”
The recommendations they’re talking about are those from
the American Heart Association (AHA), which suggests you
limit your intake of salt to 1,500 milligrams (mg) per day —
way down from the 4,000 or so mg most of us eat every day.
What did the study researchers have to say about the lowsalt
pronouncements of U.S. heart honchos? Yes, they agree,
salt restriction may be a good idea if you already have high
blood pressure or congestive heart failure. But for the rest of
us? Previous scientific research has overestimated the effect
of salt intake on healthy people, they say. And, they point out;
hardly anyone actually achieves the level of salt restriction suggested
by the AHA — a sign that the salt-needing body naturally
triggers you to eat more salt when you try to cut back.
Of course, this isn’t the first study to report that salt isn’t
bad for you. (And, in fact, it’s good for you.) Many other
studies say the same thing.