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The Argument Over Salt and Health

Some experts question the extent to which cutting salt in the diet would mean fewer heart attacks and strokes.
Some experts question the extent to which cutting salt in the diet would mean fewer heart attacks and strokes.

Eating less salt can reduce blood pressure, but can it cut heart disease, too?

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Last month we reported about a study that showed eating even a little less salt could greatly help the heart. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The scientists used a computer model to predict how just three grams less salt a day would affect heart disease in the United States.

The scientists said the results would be thirteen percent fewer heart attacks, eight percent fewer strokes, four percent fewer deaths and eleven percent fewer new cases of heart disease. And two hundred forty billion dollars in health care savings. Researchers said it could prevent one hundred thousand heart attacks and ninety-two thousand deaths every year.

The researchers were from the University of California, San Francisco, Stanford University and Columbia University.

They and public health professionals in the United States are interested in a national campaign to persuade people to eat less salt. Such campaigns are already in place in Britain, Japan and Finland.

However, some scientists say such a campaign is an experiment with the health of millions of people.

Michael Alderman is among the critics. He is a high blood pressure expert and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Doctor Alderman says that eating less salt results in lower blood pressure. But he says studies have not clearly shown that lowering salt means fewer heart attacks or strokes.

And he says salt has other biological effects. He says calling for reductions in the national diet could have good effects, but it could also have harmful results. He says there is not enough evidence either way.

Another critic is David McCarron, a nutrition and kidney disease expert at the University of California, Davis. He and his team looked at large studies of diets in thirty-three countries. They found that most people around the world eat about the same amount of salt. Most of them eat more salt than American health officials advise.

Doctor McCarron says the worldwide similarity suggests that a person’s brain might decide how much salt to eat.

Both Doctor McCarron and Doctor Alderman have connections to the Salt Institute, a trade group for the salt industry. Doctor Alderman is a member of an advisory committee. But he says he receives no money from the group. Doctor McCarron is paid for offering scientific advice to the Salt Institute.

And that’s the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I’m Shirley Griffith.