March 17, 2014 by Dr. Sana Keller
Newspaper headlines can be confusing, especially when it comes to SALT!: “Big Benefits Seen from Eating Less Salt”…”No Benefits Seen in Sharp Limits on Salt in Diet”…”Canadian Blood Pressure Experts Agree to Raise Salt Limits”…”Heart Risk of Salt Questioned After Cochrane Review”…”Shaking Up the Salt Myth”…”Low-Salt Diet Ineffective, Study Finds. Disagreement Abounds“. The first two headlines are both from the New York Times, the second one (‘No Benefits’) is most recent.
Could the messages on salt intake be any more confusing?? Since many newspaper and magazine articles and ‘health tips’ continue to promote outdated and conflicting information such as ‘salt is salt—there are no differences in types of salt’ and ‘low salt diets are best for everyone for best health’, the timing is right for current, science-based information. This is a basic area of clarification with my clients in my Healthy Lifestyle Coaching practice.
- A meta-analysis of 7 studies of more than 6,200 people was reported in the American Journal of Hypertension (July, 2011) found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces risk for heart attacks, strokes, or death in people with normal or high blood pressure
- A 2012 study in the American Journal of Hypertension found that people on low-salt diets developed higher plasma levels of renin, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
- A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (May 4, 2011) that followed 3,681 middle-aged Europeans (without high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease) for an average of 7.9 years reported that the less sodium that the study subjects excreted in their urine (a good measurement of prior sodium consumption), the greater their risk of dying from heart disease.
- A 2011 study published in The Diabetes Care journal found that people with Type 2 diabetes are more likely to die prematurely on a low-salt diet, due to higher all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.
- Michael Alderman, MD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and editor of the American Journal of Hypertension and specialist in hypertension, says medical literature on salt and health effects is inconsistent. His own study, with people who had high blood pressure, found that those who ate the least salt were most likely to die. Alderman further states that lowering salt consumption has consequences beyond blood pressure. For example, it also increases insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
The current ‘low salt’ diet recommendations promoted by federal agencies including the USDA, the Institute of Medicine, the CDC, and the NIH are essentially based on results from a 2001 study (the DASH Sodium Study) a 30-day trial of limited salt intake. This very short term study suggested that eating significantly less salt would modestly lower blood pressure. The study said nothing about reducing hypertension long term, lengthening life, or preventing heart disease.
Many other ‘salt’ studies have been found inadequate in providing useful data, with some studies reporting short-term interventions in which people are given huge amounts of salt and then deprived of salt to monitor effects on blood pressure while other studies observed certain populations, asking if those who happened to consume less salt were healthier.
The problem is not salt itself; rather it’s the type of salt we use: typical processed table salt or unrefined natural salt (sometimes referred to as sea salt). The body has a more difficult time processing table salt compared to unrefined natural salt/natural sea salt. Even so, most clinical studies use processed table salt as a source of sodium for their studies. Typical table salt can indeed promote high blood pressure and create mineral imbalances. Unrefined natural salt contains a balanced blend of more than 84 different minerals, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, zinc, and iron which are necessary for many bodily functions including maintaining body fluids like blood plasma and lymphatic fluid, carrying nutrients to cells, and regulating blood pressure and nerve impulses.
Minerals are meant to work together in our bodies, which means that we need balanced amounts of specific minerals to function well, like potassium and magnesium working with sodium to regulate water balance along with nerve and muscle impulses. If we consume more sodium, our bodies require more magnesium and potassium, yet many of us do not consume adequate amounts of them. This leads to a deficiency of potassium and magnesium which can cause symptoms such as muscle tightness, anxiety, fatigue, weakness, and abnormal heart rhythms.
Modern ‘table salt’ is unhealthy. It has almost nothing in common with unrefined natural salt, which is a result of traditional harvesting, without heat treatment or refining methods. Health experts agree that unrefined natural salt (consumed in balanced amounts) could be very beneficial for healing, health, and longevity.
Yes, there are certain individuals who fall into the category of needing closer monitoring and possible limiting of salt intake, even unrefined natural salt. This may include people with chronic kidney disease and impaired kidney function and those prone to kidney stones. Yet the vast majority of us do not fall into this category.
Part 2 in this series focuses on various brands of unrefined natural salt and where to find them…check it out!
Sana Keller, PhD, RN, CNC Health Unlimited LLC
Photo credits: tabloid-watch.blogspot.com, corporationsandhealth.org, oprah.com, mdhealthguide.com, guidingstars.com