Cutting the salt could save scores of U.S. lives

  • Article by: MELISSA HEALY
  • Los Angeles Times
  • February 12, 2013 - 7:24 PM

WASHINGTON - Steadily reducing sodium in the foods we buy and eat could save a half-million Americans from dying premature deaths over a decade, says a new study. And a more abrupt reduction to 2,200 milligrams per day -- a 40 percent drop from current levels -- could boost the tally of lives saved over 10 years to 850,000, researchers have projected.

The estimates, published Tuesday in the American Heart Association's journal Hypertension, are the results of three separate teams crunching the numbers at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The teams were from the University of California, San Francisco; Harvard University's School of Public Health, and Simon Fraser University in Canada.

If the average daily sodium intake of Americans were to drop to 1,500 milligrams per day -- a level considered "ideal" -- as many as 1.2 million premature deaths could be averted over a decade, the teams agreed. Americans currently consume about 3,600 milligrams of sodium daily and much of that is hidden in processed foods. While the link between sodium intake and high blood pressure is debated, research strongly suggests that high-sodium diets can push blood pressure above safe limits. That is important, because some 45 percent of cardiovascular disease in the United States is attributed to high blood pressure.

The researchers acknowledged that reducing sodium intake by 40 percent would be "a daunting task." But even a small, daily reduction -- the equivalent of one-twentieth of a teaspoon of salt -- could avert 280,000 to 500,000 deaths per year, the researchers concluded.

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