I wrote about the health benefits of reducing salt in my July 27 2009 column #022. It now appears that reducing sodium is only half the equation – increasing potassium is just as important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) studied more than 12,000 adults for 15 years and found that those with the highest sodium and lowest potassium intakes had the highest risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Those with the lowest risk had the lowest ratio of sodium to potassium intake, nearly equal amounts of each. Source: Archives of Internal Medicine July 11 discussed in a Los Angeles Times article by Jill Adams.
Sodium, of course, is an essential nutrient – we can’t live without it – and the emphasis on cutting salt is leading to more cases of sodium deficiency. This condition, called hyponatraemia, is more common in the elderly and is often misdiagnosed. A Rosetown octogenarian friend began having strange symptoms a few years ago and was diagnosed with hyponatraemia. His doctor prescribed potato chips (I can think of healthier sources of salt), and he quickly recovered.
Dr. David McCarron, a nutritionist and professor at U of California, recently wrote in the Financial Post that the recommendation to restrict salt for heart health is based solely on opinion – there is no reliable evidence supporting it. First, he writes, “…only a minority of individuals’ blood pressure is sensitive to salt.” Secondly, three different trials testing low-sodium diets on people with kidney and heart disease showed higher risk of hospitalizations, cardiovascular events, and death in the low-sodium group. McCarron called for large-scale controlled trials to test the current policy of sodium restriction for safety and effectiveness.
Meanwhile, what to do? Don’t overdo salt but don’t eliminate it completely either (if you still eat a lot of processed foods, you needn’t worry about a deficiency!). And make sure you are getting enough potassium – balance is the key to health.
This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.