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A modest reduction in dietary salt intake could have widespread benefits, particularly with regards to cardiovascular health, according to a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Diet and nutrition are significant considerations when it comes to disease prevention and health maintenance. Because the U.S. diet is high is salt—largely from processed food sources—and salt intake has been linked with hypertension and cardiovascular disease, the potential benefits of reducing salt intake could have a real impact on public health. 

The Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services currently recommends that dietary salt intake does not exceed 5.8 g of salt per day (2300 mg of sodium) but that most adults should aim for 3.7 g per day. The average daily salt intake in the United States, however, is much higher: estimates from 2005 through 2006 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture put average daily consumption for men at 10.4 g and 7.3 g for women. 

To evaluate the possible health benefits of reducing dietary salt intake, researchers used the Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) policy model. They estimated the population-wide effects of a modest reduction in salt intake of up to 3 g per day (1200 mg of sodium per day). 

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  • The projected number of new cases of CHD in the United States could be reduced by 60,000 to 120,000.
  • Incidence of stroke could be reduced by 32,000 to 66,000.
  • Incidence of heart attack could be reduced by 54,000 to 99,000.
  • Annual number of deaths from any cause could be reduced by 44,000 to 92,000.
  • $10 billion to $24 billion in healthcare costs could be saved annually. (Reducing dietary salt intake would be more cost-effective than using medications to lower blood pressure.) 

The researchers concluded that even modestly reducing daily dietary salt intake could have significant population-wide cardiovascular health benefits as well as reduce medical costs. The potential positive health effects of reducing salt in the U.S. diet could be as profound as reductions in smoking, obesity, and cholesterol levels. 

Reference: Bibbins-Domingo K, Chertow GM, et al. Projected effect of dietary salt reductions on future cardiovascular disease. New England Journal of Medicine. 2010 Feb 18;362(7):590-9.

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