Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sorting out salt and health issues

Today's Tech Central Station has a great article by author John Luik entitled "A Grain of Salt" that summarizes the ongoing salt and health controversy admirably. Luik points out: "That's why across the board salt reductions such as the MRC and CSPI call for make no scientific sense. Instead, the science, taken in its entirety, suggests that population-wide dietary salt reductions do not improve health outcomes, such as the number of strokes, heart attacks or the risk of premature mortality. In fact for some groups they actually increase certain risks. For example, analysis of the MRFIT (Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial), which followed the lives and deaths of 12,866 American males for an average of 12 years, found there were no health benefits from low-sodium diets." It's worth a read. Unfortunately, today's news also includes the assertion that cutting back salt would cut health care costs in Britain by £6 billion, based on assumed reduced incidence of cardiovascular events. In an online response, I pointed out that "Anyone can build a model and project an outcome (£6bn a year), but the model depends on the assumptions of its creators and NHS’ model reflects is the triumph of hope over the realities of the scientific data." I further observed: "Reducing dietary salt is promoted to reduce blood pressure on the assumption that however blood pressure is reduced will lower the risk profile for heart attacks and cardiovascular deaths. That’s where the “savings” NHS projects originate. But there are no data confirming this hope. In fact, only a dozen studies have examined the health outcomes of people on lower sodium diets and they show, if anything, that there is a HIGHER RISK of heart attacks. How can that be? When salt is reduced, the body compensates with other metabolic changes: insulin resistance is increased, sympathetic nervous system activity increases and, most of all, the body secretes vastly more renin, a hormone produced in the kidney that has been shown by the president of the International Society of Hypertension to cause four times more heart attacks."

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