For at least six decades physicians and health care policymakers have been cautioning us about adding salt to our food. Each time when we begin to make a little progress on the salt prevention front, some media frenzy puts a major damper on the whole effort. Recently the news spotlighted a flawed study indicating that not only did you not have to worry about salt, you actually might want add salt to everything you eat just to make sure you are getting enough sodium. Thanks in a large measure to this type of misleading information, salt consumption goes on and on, resulting in high blood pressure for over a billion people according to data compiled by the World Health Organization.
There should be no doubt that salt causes high blood pressure. The data is so overwhelming and so broad, let me simply quote Dr. Jeremiah Stamler, the father of preventive cardiology:
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.
—The International Journal of Epidemiology [2002 316-319]
What is wrong with having high blood pressure? you ask. It is called the silent killer for a good reason.Just look at this data from the progress trial involving more than a million people. You’ll see that as the blood pressure increases by modest amounts, the number of related deaths skyrockets.
What Is at Stake
As the apparent controversy keeps scuttling any efforts to reduce population-wide salt intake, the toll keeps mounting.
In addition to the traditionally known impact of high blood pressure on the three main target organs—the kidney, brain and the heart—just look at some the recent information.
Overgrown heart muscle as it fights high blood pressure is now known to be a major reason for millions living with, and dying from, heart failure. Heart failure also is the number one reason for hospital admission for over 65 years of age.
Salt intake contributes to osteoporosis affecting nearly all the post-menopausal women (50 million in America alone). The toll from osteoporosis causing disability, dysfunction and death is several times greater than the combined risk of breast cancer, ovarian and cervical cancers.
Stomach cancer, the second biggest cancer killer worldwide has been linked to salt intake.
Acute asthmatic attacks affecting so many children and causing unfortunate deaths also has been linked to salt intake.
Dementia, the largest growing problem of epidemic proportions is linked to salt-induced high blood pressure.
The recent paper from United Kingdom published in the November 2013 issue of the British Medical Journal looked at the salt content of pain pills and over-the-counter supplements used by over a million Britons and concluded that all it takes is a pinch of salt in these pills to cause high blood pressure at six times higher than those don’t take these salty pills. Cardiovascular disease was also almost 30 percent higher in the affected group in only seven years of the study period.
Results from the Trials of Hypertension Prevention (TOHP) study in January 2014 revealed no deleterious effect on the lowest sodium group (Circulation. 2014;129:956-957). The TOHP studies are so widely regarded as the best evidence for salt reduction saving lives that the British Medical Journal editor called this study “the final bugle call” and another editor issued a call for action saying that “it is time to talk salt”. (British Medical Journal 2007;334:0.1)
When you add up all this information, it should be concluded without any reasonable doubt that our salt habit extracts a toll from just about everybody.
Shockingly, the pro-salt study—which basically just recapped a number of prior salt-related studies—released earlier this month covers none of the above information, How incredibly reckless is that? And of course it did not contain a single mention of the damage salt does to the Black Americans, the most affected group.
These sorts of pro-salt positions will continue to be published because the salt industry’s pockets are deep much deeper than those of the American Heart Association or other public interest groups. And they’ll continue to spark media frenzy because people want to hear that they can eat as much salt as they want. Don’t be fooled. Salt will kill you. It’s just a matter of time.