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Salt reduction: Heart benefits unclear in new study

July 06, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • A new analysis of seven studies, including nearly 6,500 people, found that reducing salt lowered blood pressure but didn't necessarily reduce deaths. The researchers acknowledge that the number of participants wasn't enough to find small changes in risk of death, and that further study is needed.
A new analysis of seven studies, including nearly 6,500 people, found that… (Anacleto Rapping / Los Angeles…)

Cutting back on salt does seem to reduce blood pressure -- welcome news for those diligently watching their intake -- but it might not reduce deaths, a new analysis suggests. 

Researchers analyzed results from seven studies that tracked salt reduction and deaths or significant events caused by cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke and heart surgery) for at least six months in nearly 6,500 people.

The researchers found no strong evidence that reducing sodium intake in people with high or normal blood pressure reduces the death rate. And they found reason to believe that it actually increases the risk of death in those with congestive heart failure.

The authors acknowledge that the results weren’t statistically overwhelming, so they're not recommending that anyone reach for the salt shaker at this point. The results still support the notion that salt reduction is generally beneficial.

The results were published online Wednesday in the Cochrane Library and in the American Journal of Hypertension.

Such findings may spark a few salty words on the part of salt lovers who've been passing up their favorite foods. But they won't come as a surprise to those who've been closely following the back-and-forth amid health experts, many of whom steadfastly support prevailing health advice to cut back on sodium to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Said Dr. Pascal Imperato, dean of SUNY Downstate Medical Center's School of Public Health in Brooklyn, N.Y., in an ABC News article:  "There is extensive evidence that excessive salt intake places many individuals at risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. These long-term effects may not result in death for many years."

And even the authors acknowledge that the studies didn’t include enough people to find small changes in risk.

“Our findings support the recent call for further rigorous large long-term RCTs [randomized controlled trials], capable of definitively demonstrating the CVD [cardiovascular disease] benefit of dietary salt reduction.”

In other words, more research is needed.

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