In commentary published online today by the British Medical Journal, public health activists call for a global campaign to reduce salt consumption. With their eyes on an upcoming United Nations meeting on non-communicable diseases, they propose governmental limits on the amount of salt that can be in food. The commentary’s basis is the idea that the question “is not whether to reduce salt intake but how to do so.” Unfortunately, these overzealous do-gooders overlook a mountain of research indicating that the question is still quite open.
Two studies published in past three months examine whether reducing salt would have any positive effects and indicate that indiscriminate sodium reduction might actually have negative health consequences. In May, research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that, among 3,700 subjects studied for as long as 23 years, the cardiovascular death rate was highest among those who ate less salt. The authors reported that their findings don’t back up “the current recommendations of a generalized and indiscriminate reduction in salt intake at the population level.”
And last month, a Cochrane Collaborative review determined that a 50 percent salt reduction is not associated with a significant decrease in cardiovascular disease or death risk. Further, salt reduction in people already diagnosed with heart failure is associated with an increased mortality risk.
We hate to burst the Brits’ bubble, but acting as if the “science is settled” is simply, well, unscientific. The editor of the American Journal of Hypertension reported in 2009 that of the best nine studies, four found association between salt consumption and health.
Clearly, the lack of consensus continues, however inconvenient the truth is for the Chicken Littles. What the public-health world really needs is not salt control, but more scientific study.