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Too Much Salt Still Dangerous for Americans, Says the AHA

The American Heart Association continues to support curbing sodium intake to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease

--by Suzanne Boothby

The Gist

A diet high is sodium remains a major cause of heart disease and stroke, but most Americans still consume more than twice the amount of sodium recommended by health officials.

A new American Heart Association (AHA) presidential advisory published in the association's journal Circulation, reaffirms the group’s 2011 advisement that limiting sodium (salt) intake to less than 1,500 milligrams per day is linked to a decreased risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, including stroke. Most Americans consume more 3,400 mg each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reducing sodium intake can also help fight high blood pressure, which affects more than 76 million U.S. adults and can lead to cardiovascular disease.

The Center For Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nutrition and health public advocacy group, refers to salt as a silent killer and estimates that reducing sodium consumption could save 150,000 lives per year. Almost 80 percent of our sodium comes from processed and restaurant foods, according to CSPI.

“Overconsumption of sodium is one of the single greatest causes of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, and restaurant and packaged foods—not salt shakers—are far and away the largest contributors of sodium in the American diet,” said CSPI deputy director of health promotion policy Julie Greenstein in a 2012 press release. “Unfortunately, the food industry has failed to significantly bring down sodium levels despite 40 years of governmental admonitions. It’s time for the FDA to step in and require reasonable reductions.”

The Expert Take

Recent reports, including research published in the American Journal for Hypertension questioning the impact of sodium reduction on heart health, have created confusion about healthy levels of sodium consumption.

"People should not be swayed by calls for a change in sodium intake recommendations based on findings from recent studies reporting that a reduction in sodium consumption does not improve cardiovascular health," said Paul K. Whelton, M.D., M.Sc., lead author and Show Chwan Professor of Global Public Health in the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans. "Our detailed review of these studies identified serious methodological weaknesses, which limit the value of these reports in setting or revising sodium intake policy.”

Whelton said that the focus should be on finding effective ways to implement, not change, the existing American Heart Association policy on sodium intake.

Source and Method

Researchers conducted a thorough review of recent laboratory, animal, observational, and clinical studies concerning sodium intake and cardiovascular health.

The Takeaway

The AHA recommends improved nutritional labeling of sodium content and stringent limits on sodium in all foods—fresh, processed, and prepared—provided to everyone and, in particular, to schools and government programs.

Experts also believe that industry leaders and health officials must work together on this issue.

"It will require a joint effort between health organizations, policy makers, and the food industry to achieve this goal by creating an environment conducive to helping all Americans make healthy, low-sodium food choices,” said AHA president Donna Arnett, Ph.D., M.S.P.H.

Other Research

In 2010, The Institute of Medicine released a report detailing strategies to help reduce sodium intake in the U.S. Salt, The Silent Killer, a report published by CSPI, discusses more ways policy makers and the food industry can take action.

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Tags: Awareness , Latest Studies & Research , Public Health & Policy

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.