Setting the Record Straight-Danish Salt Study

SCIENCE GEEK ALERT: this blog entry is in response to a recent study about salt intake that has gotten a lot of press lately. CBS news’ headline read “Cutting back salt may be worse for heart health: study” and Fox news reported “STUDY: cutting back on salt bad for your health.”  This type of faulty reporting is NOT what the American population needs right now, as we are plagued with rising rates of hypertension, heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes. Hence, I must set the record straight for people who read those headlines and use them as rationale for not cutting back on their salt intake.

Because there was a rise in cholesterol of Caucasians with normal blood pressure levels, the media (and the author) took it upon themselves to make such bold claims for the entire population (and a very heterogenous population I might add!).  Meanwhile, the study’s results for people of African or Asian decent weren’t even conclusive.  Not only do these news articles grossly misreport the research, but they also fail to mention the alarming amounts of sodium that most people consume.  With the push from public advocacy organization to reduce sodium levels, these reports are just the argument that the food industry wants to hear, giving off the false impression that reducing salt intake isn’t important. 
So let’s get to the real facts. Published in the American Journal of Hypertension, the study examined the effects of lower salt intake on blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels.  Specifically, the researchers from Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark examined 167 studies where participants were prescribed either a low salt or high salt diet.  Based on the data, the Copenhagen researchers blanketly concluded that sodium reduction resulted in a 1% decrease in blood pressure for participants with normal blood pressure and a 3.5% reduction for hypertensives.   Meanwhile, greater reductions were found for Asians and blacks. They likewise concluded that the low sodium diet resulted in a 2.5% increase in cholesterol and a 7% increase in triglycerides for individuals with normal blood pressure, without taking into consideration ethnic variations.
To begin with, the low salt diet in fact wasn’t even low at all! The criteria being less than 2,700 mg, which is higher than the recommendation of 2,300 mg and even higher than the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 1,500 mg.  Additionally, the average timeframe for the study was only 4 weeks, which is too short of a time to make sound recommendations.  The actual study in fact mentions that the longer term studies didn’t suggest such increases in heart disease risk factors.

The lead researcher, Dr. Niels Graudal, told HealthDay that “people should generally not worry about their salt intake.”  This remark needs to be taken into context given his cultural perspective as a Danish researcher who is perhaps basing his responses on the average Danes’ intake of sodium.  A doctor in American would have to be insane to make such a statement.
The BOTTOM LINE is to reduce your salt/sodium intake.  We are not humanly built to survive with such enormous amounts of salt in our diets even if a Danish research team and the media report otherwise.   

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