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Pass the Salt – Maybe

Is there such a thing as a healthy salt intake?

Considering that salt has long had a reputation for being a culprit behind high blood pressure and heart disease, it may be difficult to answer “yes” to this question. To add fuel to the debate about the health effects of a low-sodium diet, results from three studies recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine were inconclusive as to whether low sodium intake is associated with an increased or reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in the general population.

One of the studies in particular, a large international study of more than 100,000 people in 17 countries, questions the conventional wisdom that most people should cut back on salt. The study even goes so far as to suggest that too little salt may be as bad as too much, and that the amount most of us consume isn’t heart-unhealthy.

“We shouldn’t be too surprised by the findings of these studies,” says cardiologist Jorge Cheirif, M.D., of Presbyterian Heart & Vascular Group ― a Texas Health Physicians Group practice in Dallas. “Our bodies need a certain amount of salt to thrive. In fact, we’re made up of salt water to a large extent.”

A few benefits of salt offered by Dr. Cheirif include:

  • Hydration. This is why salt is in things like Gatorade and other electrolyte drinks used by doctors to treat patients suffering from dehydration and diarrhea.
  • Regulation of blood sugar. Diabetics know the importance of not having low salt intake.
  • Full-term pregnancy. Salt contributes to water retention and can help maintain adequate fluid levels in the body during a woman’s pregnancy, to ward off premature delivery.
  • Healthy thyroid. The iodine added to today’s table salt acts as a means to thyroid hormone production, aiding in the prevention of a sluggish thyroid.

“Of course, everything in moderation. Current American dietary guidelines recommend individuals aged 2 and up limit daily sodium intake to no more than two grams. That’s less than a teaspoon of salt per day.” Dr. Cheirif said.

Dash Your Way to Heart Health

Limiting salt is especially important for people with high blood pressure. One of the studies from the New England Journal estimates that too much sodium (more than two grams per day) contributes to up to 1.65 million deaths each year. But, salt isn’t the only cause of high blood pressure and heart disease. Lack of exercise, a poor diet and inherited risk also play a role.

“Still, Americans consume way too much salt, mostly through processed foods,” Dr. Cheirif says. As a rule of thumb, a dash will do when adding salt to your food. But, the bigger picture here is to focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and eating right overall rather than counting daily salt grams.”

Know your risk for heart disease. Visit YourHeartAge.com.

Physicians employed by Texas Health Physicians Group practice independently and are not employees of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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