Study questions health benefits of reducing sodium in diet

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 10th November 2011

New Danish research published today in the American Journal of Hypertension claims that, contrary to previous findings, reducing the amount of sodium in one’s diet may not have an overall positive impact on heart health.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence that the general recommendation of reducing dietary sodium as a preventative heath measure should be re-evaluated.

The study titled ‘Effects of Low-Sodium Diet vs. High-Sodium Diet on Blood Pressure’ was undertaken by researchers at Copenhagen University Hospital and Bispebjerg University Hospital, in Denmark.

Reduced sodium intake has previously been shown to lower blood pressure, so it has been assumed that it would also prevent cardiovascular disease. However, in the Danish research, a broader range of bio-markers, such as hormones and lipids, were assessed. The researchers said that, when these other bio-markers are taken into consideration, an association between salt reduction and increased cardiovascular risk becomes evident.

Lead researcher Niels A. Grauda, from Copenhagen University Hospital said, “Sodium reduction did decrease blood pressure for people with both normal and high blood pressure, but it also caused significant increases in renin, cholesterol, triglyceride and other compounds that can have an adverse effect on cardiovascular health.

The authors also suggested that previous meta-analyses did not reflect the potentially harmful effects of sodium reduction sufficiently because they included very few longer-term studies.

World Health Organization responds to study

In response to the study’s findings, the head of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre, Professor Francesco Cappuccio claimed the study should not distract attention from implementing salt reduction policies at population level globally, as directed by national governments, the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

Sodium on political agenda

The Danish research findings coincide with discussion in the U.S. and Australia over the government’s approach to reducing sodium consumption.

The U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) is considering introducing tighter regulatory standards for salt content that food manufacturers can add to their products, as recommended by the non-profit Institute of Medicine.

The U.S. Government’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, met with the FDA today to discuss the issue. The FDA says the public meeting will inform possible future action by the agencies.

In Australia, the proposed nutrient profile criteria for food to be eligible to carry a positive health claim are difficult to meet for high-sodium foods. The Australian Government has also been advocating that Australian food industry must reformulate and reduce salt in breads and breakfast cereals.