Reducing Salt Intake May Not Decrease your Heart Disease Risk

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~ Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND

Many studies conducted internationally over the past 15 years have demonstrated an increased risk of heart disease for people who consume more than the recommended limit of 1500mg of sodium daily. Dozens of countries have implemented programs that encourage their populations to reduce sodium intake, resulting in up to a suspected 65% decreased risk of death from heart disease! However, a controversial gold standard study conducted by the Cochrane Review in 2011 found a lack of benefit for people who reduced their sodium intake. How is this possible?

The answer may lie in a growing understanding of how nutrients such as sodium are only markers of risk, and not a cause. Cholesterol for example, is an antioxidant that your liver generates to fight inflammation in the body. Inflammation is strongly and repeatedly associated with many chronic degenerative diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. The idea that cholesterol causes heart disease remains only scientific theory, and the suggestion that cholesterol is a protective mechanism exerted by the body against inflammation is also a well researched and valid theory. In fact, the new research linking the use of statin pharmaceuticals (used to forcefully reduce cholesterol levels), with an up to 50% increased risk of diabetes (another risk factor for heart disease), further supports the latter theory that cholesterol levels are only a marker of heart disease and not a cause. Searching for a deeper cause of heart disease is critical in the treatment and prevention of such a prevalent illness, particularly in the face of such controversial research regarding cholesterol-lowering medications.

Sodium, just like cholesterol, may only be a marker of other risk factors for developing heart disease. Sodium intake could simply reflect our intake of processed foods, which is clearly associated with elevated heart disease risk; such that our risk only declines once we reduce our intake of processed foods regardless of the amount of sodium. A diet low in processed foods is also often high in naturally low-sodium, high-potassium fruits and vegetables, and contains far fewer chemicals associated with chronic disease, including trans fats, nitrates, and preservatives. High potassium diets are associated with low heart disease risk, and are an important concept in the DASH diet promoted by public health officials for people with high blood pressure. (In fact, some research strongly suggests that only 10% of people with high blood pressure are sensitive to salt, and that a low-potassium diet may be a more causal factor. Click here to see the standard DASH diet recommendations for high blood pressure.)

Consequently, we can’t rely on research that targets 1 nutrient or chemical as a cause of chronic illness given that it is very possibly only a marker of another factor that contributes to disease. We see this situation repeatedly in nutrition research but haven’t quite learned how to bypass the marketing and media industries that promote the latest trendy research and corresponding health recommendations. Consider speaking with your health practitioner about how to wisely interpret new research and trends before applying them to your daily routine. This can save you time, money, and good health.