I have a lot of patients that when I ask them to tell me about their eating habits they proceed to tell me about how they have restricted their salt intake. There are very few of these same patients that understand that salt is necessary for life and virtually nothing in our body will function without it. This includes our nervous system and muscles which are powered by ion gradients of which sodium plays an important role.
Much of this focus on salt intake in regards to our diet has come from government and doctors. While eating too much salt can be a problem for some, the vast majority of us can manage the salt balance in our bodies without a problem.
The brings me to a controversial study published in the prestigious medical journal, the Lancet. The study looked at four different studies with over 100,000 participants. The study estimated salt intake by measuring morning urine salt content in patients and then measuring their health outcomes over several years. The results of the study showed that "high sodium intake is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events and death in hypertensive populations (no association in normotensive population), while the association of low sodium intake with increased risk of cardiovascular events and death is observed in those with or without hypertension. These data suggest that lowering sodium intake is best targeted at populations with hypertension who consume high sodium diets."
To summarize, participants with low salt intake had a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and death. The study also showed that eating a moderate amount of salt of about 3000 mg per day was associated with the best health.
One of the lead researchers, Andrew Mente, stated that "having neither too high nor too low levels of sodium is optimal for health."
In conclusion, I think it is probably important to keep in mind that like most things in life moderation seems to be the key. In some cases salt intake will need to be lowered as directed by your doctor especially if you have heart or kidney disease. Before changing the salt content of your diet please consult with your doctor first.
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