Live Heart Healthy. Live Well & Live Long

Salt, Stamler and the New York Times’ Op-ed

by | Jul 16, 2012

A recent New York Times Op Ed positioned Jeremiah Stamler, MD—one of the most ardent anti-salt advocates—as equivocating on the issue about whether salt is bad for you. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Let me introduce you to the doctor who is widely regarded as the foremost authority on the role of salt and fatty foods in hypertension and cardiovascular disease. All the information in this post has been taken from published reports:

Dr. Jeremiah Stamler is the professor emeritus of preventive medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Stamler is credited with introducing the term "risk factors" into the field of cardiology. Due to his scientific accomplishments over the decades, he is now considered to be one of the fathers of cardiovascular epidemiology.

Dr. Stamler’s body of work encompasses more than 1,000 published papers and monographs. In recognition of his extensive contributions, he has received numerous prestigious international awards. Here is just a sample of these awards:

  • The American Heart Association conferred many awards to Dr. Stamler over a number of years. Especially noteworthy, in 1990, the Executive Committee of the Council in Epidemiology established the Jeremiah Stamler, MD New Investigator Award.
  • The American College of Physicians conferred the James D. Bruce Memorial Award for Distinguished Contributions in Preventive Medicine.
  • The Center for Science in the Public Interest inducted him into the Nutrition Hall of Fame.
  • The American Medical Association, the largest organization of physician members, published a review of his lifetime’s accomplishments, a rare honor. You’ll find that at Jeremiah Stamler, MD: Researcher, Leader in Cardiovascular Disease Prevention JAMA. 2004;292(16):1941-1943. doi:10.1001/jama.292.16.1941.

Dr. Stamler’s position on salt did not waiver. In a August 23, 2005 New York Times Interview entitled “A Conversation with Jeremiah Stamler” by Jane E. Brody, he said:

”Physicians with vision influenced public policy on improving lifestyles. Americans heard the message, even though special interests – the egg, meat, dairy and salt industries – slowed things down and created problems”.

“We know that potassium has a favorable effect, and salt, weight gain and excess alcohol have an adverse effect.”

In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [1997; 65 (suppl)626s-42s] review of the INTERSALT study, he stated:

“The INTERSALT study results, which agree with the findings from other diverse studies, including data from clinical observations, therapeutic interventions, randomized controlled trial, animal experimentation, physiologic investigations, evolutionary biology research anthropology research, and epidemiologic studies, support the judgment that habitual high salt intake is one of the quantitatively important, preventable mass exposures causing the unfavorable population wide blood pressure pattern that is a major risk factor for epidemic cardiovascular disease."

A review of the INTERSALT study published by Dr. Stamler is one his most important contributions to our knowledge about salt. In this study 52 population groups from 32 countries were tested and concluded that salt causes high blood pressure in proportion to the amount salt intake.

In the International journal of Epidemiology [2002 316-319] he concluded that the evidence on salt and blood pressure is consistent and persuasive.

“Ignoring the overwhelming scientific consensus on this issue…[is] supportive of positions adapted by special interests and come at the expense of public health”. In addition he said that “efforts to promote the idea that there is scientifically grounded controversy in this area—as in the area of tobacco and disease—are scientifically unsound and detrimental to health…with faulted methodological thrust involving a heterogeneous mix of errors and omissions.”

Hopefully this has eliminated any confusion about Dr. Stamler’s stand on salt. And let there be no confusion about his message and mine: Salt does kill.


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