by Barbara Minton

(The Best Years in Life) Have you been told to avoid salt from doctors, friends, neighbors and maybe even the mechanic that’s fixing your car? Almost every “health” magazine has an article on the dangers of salt. In fact, the federal government recently urged most Americans to again sharply cut their already reduced salt intakes. Salt has been said to lead to high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. But like most truisms, this one should be taken with a grain of salt. Two separate studies published in 2011 found that diets low in salt may actually increase the risk of fatal heart attack and stroke. And the lower the salt intake, the greater the risk.

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Both studies were published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), but received virtually no coverage in mainstream media. In the first, 3681 participants without cardiovascular disease were followed from 1985 until 2008. Researchers found that those with the lowest sodium levels, equivalent to consuming 2500 mg per day or an average of slightly more than one teaspoon of salt each day, had no greater protection against high blood pressure, heart disease, or death from cardiovascular causes than those who consumed the highest levels of 6000 mg of salt per day on average.

Deaths from heart disease and hospitalizations for coronary heart failure actually decreased with higher sodium intake. A total of 50 deaths occurred in the third of participants having the lowest sodium intakes, and 24 deaths occurred in the third who had medium sodium intakes. Only 10 deaths occurred in the third with the highest intakes. The findings showed the lowest risk for death was in those consuming between 4000 and 6000 mgs of salt per day.

The second study confirmed the findings of the first, adding that baseline sodium excretion did not predict the incidence of hypertension, and associations between systolic blood pressure and sodium excretion did not translate into reduced morbidity or improved survival.

These studies vindicated the work of Dr. Michael Alderman, from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, who has been trying to tell us for years that salt is not the culprit for hypertension and heart disease. A study he headed in 1998 came to the same conclusion as the JAMA studies, finding that people following low salt diets had a dramatically higher mortality risk. He has long noted that eating less salt increases insulin resistance that in turn can increase cardiovascular risk and the risk of other degenerative disease.

These findings come on the heels of other supposedly “bad things” that have been found to be good, such as sunshine, butter, red wine, dietary fat, and chocolate. They suggest it’s time to enjoy salt again. Your life may depend on it.

Why having optimal salt is critical

Salt is composed of sodium and chloride ions that are essential for life. Salt works with potassium to regulate the fluid balance of the body, and is used for electrical signaling in the nervous system. For these reasons, as well as for the taste of salt, it has been an extremely valuable commodity during human history.

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