A single gram of salt makes the difference for millions of heart attacks

A single gram of salt makes the difference for millions of heart attacks

We know that consuming too much salt raises blood pressure, which in turn can lead to cardiovascular problems. A new study has now quantified this relationship in clear, stark terms as a public health message.

Looking at health data on adults in China, the study authors estimated that a reduction of just 1 gram in daily salt intake would be enough to prevent 9 million cases of stroke and heart attack between now and 2030.

With 4 million of those cases likely to be fatal, such a simple measure could save many lives.

In China, the average daily salt consumption is 11 grams, well above the 5 grams recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The researchers collected the latest statistics on population size, salt consumption, blood pressure and disease rates.

“Previous estimates of the health effects of reducing salt intake in China used outdated or otherwise unreliable data sources and did not account for the more long-lasting effect of salt reduction on blood pressure over several years,” the researchers write in their published paper.

The team looked at two other scenarios beyond the one gram drop: a reduction of 3.2 grams per day (a 30 percent decrease from the average) by 2025 and a reduction in salt intake to the recommended 5 grams per day. in 2030.

If those goals are met, up to twice as many deaths from cardiovascular disease could be prevented, due to the estimated reduction in systolic blood pressure.

However, the researchers emphasize that the reduction should be consistent over several years. Educational programs in Chinese schools suggest that most of the population would not find it too difficult to meet that 1 gram per day target.

“Other studies on low-sodium, high-potassium salt substitutes, health education to home cooks, and restaurant interventions are underway or have recently been completed, some of which have already shown promising results,” the researchers write.

Cardiovascular disease is responsible for as much as 40 percent of deaths in China, with urbanization — and the attendant increase in eating processed and takeaway foods — being considered one of the major contributing factors.

While the authors of this study only looked at a potential reduction in cardiovascular disease, they suggest that lowering salt intake might have several other benefits as well. Too much salt has also been linked to, for example, certain types of cancer and various kidney problems.

The Chinese government has launched a Healthy China 2030 campaign to try to meet its goal of a daily salt intake of just 5 grams. That won’t be easy with a population of 1.4 billion people, but the numbers produced in this study are compelling.

“There is an urgent need for a salt reduction program that is workable, coherent and sustainable and that targets the current and future major dietary sources of salt in China,” the researchers write.

The research was published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.

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