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Eating too much sodium can increase your risk of certain health issues. SolStock/Getty Images
  • High salt intake is associated with many health problems including high blood pressure, kidney disease, and heart failure.
  • New research indicates that people who use salt at mealtimes are at increased risk of chronic kidney disease, compared with those who use it sparingly or not at all.
  • Using salt at mealtimes was also associated with other socioeconomic factors like higher BMI, lower physical activity, and smoking.

You may want to think again about reaching for the salt shaker at mealtimes, especially if you’re concerned about your kidneys or high blood pressure.

Too much sodium is linked to a host of health problems including high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease.

Some of these conditions affect each other. For example, high blood pressure is also a risk factor for kidney disease.

Many studies on kidney disease also include individuals with other health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes, which makes it difficult to tease out how clearly sodium consumption on its own affects kidney disease.

Now researchers are taking a novel approach to examining the association between chronic kidney disease and salt consumption.

A recent study published in JAMA in December found that people who use more salt at mealtimes are at greater risk for developing kidney disease.

“Previous studies have shown high intakes of salt/sodium are related to a higher risk of kidney disease. Our study provides novel information to show that changing eating behavior – reduction of adding salt to foods at the table is related to a lower kidney disease risk,” Dr. Lu Qi, MD, PhD, a Professor of Epidemiology at Tulane University, and author of the research told Healthline.

Qi and his team studied kidney disease outcomes in a cohort of people living in the United Kingdom. To do this they utilized the UK Biobank, a biomedical database that includes lifestyle and health data from about a half-million participants. The research included 465,288 people with an average age of 56. The group was almost evenly split between men and women but included more women in total. The cohort was also predominantly white, with about 90% reporting white as their ethnicity.

Participants were enrolled between 2006 to 2010 and followed up with for an average of 12 years.

None of the participants had chronic kidney disease when they enrolled in the study.

As part of their involvement, participants were asked to self-report how often they added salt to foods. They could respond with four answers: “never or rarely,” “sometimes,” “usually,” and “always.”

According to the authors, the study is the first of its kind to explore self-reported salt intake and chronic kidney disease in a population study.

Researchers found that the more often individuals added salt to their food, answering with anything besides “never or rarely,” their risk for chronic kidney disease increased. This occurred even when researchers controlled for major confounders like high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

The risk increased with the frequency that people used salt as well, with those answering “always,” having the highest associated increase in risk.

Participants were divided into three groups based on their answers about salt usage at mealtimes, with those who answered “never or rarely” serving as the baseline.

Those who answered “always” had a 29% increase in risk of chronic kidney disease. That number decreased to 12% for the “usually” group and 7% for those who answered “sometimes.”

When researchers controlled for confounding factors, these numbers dropped but still remained statistically significant. At the highest control level, which included high blood pressure, infectious disease, age and sex, and more, the “always” group still demonstrated an increased risk of 6%, followed by “usually” (5%), and “sometimes” (2%).

Dr. Kirk Campbell, board-certified nephrologist and president-elect of the National Kidney Foundation, told Healthline that since the study involved self-reported diets, it’s not entirely clear how much sodium people consumed.

“As mentioned by the authors, despite their statistical adjustment efforts, adding excess salt to foods could simply be a marker of other unhealthy lifestyle factors that could directly influence [chronic kidney disease] risk.” Campbell told Healthline in an emailed statement.

“Nonetheless, this is a large, well-designed study in close to 500,000 individuals that identifies an important potential link between dietary/lifestyle choices and the risk of developing [chronic kidney disease],” Campbell said.

Salt, in moderation, isn’t bad for you. In fact, your body needs it to function.

Sodium is one of the predominant minerals in salt and is necessary to several bodily functions including muscle contraction, fluid retention, and nerve impulses.

The thing is, you really don’t need that much to keep your body functioning, and it’s easy to consume too much of it.

Salt and sodium aren’t exactly the same thing, but the terms are frequently used interchangeably. The amount of sodium can vary depending on the kind of salt you consume (sea salt versus table salt, for example). But the bottom line is the same: If a doctor tells you to lower your salt intake, what they are really telling you is to lower your sodium intake.

The FDA recommends consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day for an adult.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS RD, Cleveland Clinic, and co-author of Regenerative Health, said the study findings were in line with past research and that what may be most helpful to people is knowing that cutting down salt-intake can have clear benefits.

“What may be valuable for the consumer is the dose dependence of the findings,” Kirkpatrick told Healthline. “Adding less salt appeared to have less risk. However, the limitations the authors noted were self-report and inability to assess whether more high salt in the diet was correlated with an unhealthy diet as well. “

Qi also tells Healthline that their research further points out the health benefits of lowering your daily salt consumption.

“Clinical trials have shown that consumption of less salt may reduce risks of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, while more clinical trials are needed to test the effects on kidney disease. The take-home advice is, to reduce adding salt to foods at the table,” said Qi.

Kirkpatrick said there are simple ways to start cutting sodium from your diet.

“Limiting ultra processed foods may be a good first step towards naturally lowering your salt intake,” Kirkpatrick said. “This is even more helpful when combined with increasing dietary patterns that are more plant-based and based on fresh food choices. You can also start looking for sodium on labels of your favorite foods to gain some perspective of how much sodium you may be consuming.”

Campbell said people in the U.S. are often consuming far more salt than is recommended and there are key foods to look out for.

“Globally, it is estimated that adults consume twice the recommended daily sodium intake,” Campbell said According to the FDA, high sodium intake among Americans is primarily driven by consumption of foods.”

Among others, these foods include:

    • deli meat sandwiches
    • pizza
    • burritos and tacos
    • soups
    • other snacks like chips and popcorn.

Consuming too much salt is bad for your health and can result in high blood pressure, kidney disease, and heart failure, among other issues.

According to new research, adding salt at mealtime, using a salt shaker for example, is associated with an increased risk of developing kidney disease, even when controlling for confounding factors.

Lowering salt intake is an important public health initiative in the United States. The FDA recommends limiting salt intake to less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.