Too Much Salt Might Help Spur Irregular Heartbeat

A high-salt diet could raise your risk for a common heart rhythm disorder, new research suggests.

Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots or other complications. It affects millions of people worldwide and puts them at higher risk for stroke and, in rare cases, can lead to heart failure.

This study included 716 middle-aged men and women in Finland who were followed for an average of 19 years. During that time, 74 of the participants were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

Those with the highest levels of salt in their diet had a higher rate of atrial fibrillation than those with the lowest salt intake. After accounting for several other risk factors — including age, body fat, blood pressure and smoking — the researchers found that salt consumption was independently associated with the risk of atrial fibrillation.

But the study only found an association — it did not prove that a high-salt diet causes the heart rhythm disorder.

The study was published recently in the Annals of Medicine.

“This study provides the first evidence that dietary salt may increase the risk of new-onset atrial fibrillation, adding to a growing list of dangers from excessive salt consumption on our cardiovascular health,” said study author Tero Paakko, from the University of Oulu in Finland.

“Although further confirmatory studies are needed, our results suggest that people who are at an increased risk of atrial fibrillation may benefit from restricting salt in their diet,” Paakko said in a journal news release.

The chances of developing atrial fibrillation increase with age, and the condition affects about 7 in 100 people 65 and older.

“With estimates suggesting that over three-quarters of salt consumed is already added in processed foods, reducing salt intake at a population level could have a hugely beneficial impact on new-onset atrial fibrillation and overall cardiovascular disease,” Paakko said.

Source: HealthDay


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Instant Ramen Made with Less Salt

Julian Ryall wrote . . . . . . . . .

Health authorities in Japan hope a new instant noodle creation will help lift the residents of Aomori Prefecture off the bottom of the national list for life expectancy.

Male residents of Aomori can expect to live to an average age of 78.67, somewhat slightly less than the national average of 79.59, while women generally reach 85.93, short of the 86.35 years that women in the rest of the country live.

For both men and women, Aomori ranks last in life expectancy and it is generally accepted that a diet that is heavy in salt – found in high levels in soy sauce and “miso” – is to blame.

The problem has been recognised for many years and the National Institute of Health and Nutrition has drawn up a special programme designed to improve the health and well-being of residents of the prefecture.

A key part of that programme is encouraging people to reduce their salt intake and increase their consumption of vegetables and fruit.

The government-backed scheme also calls on companies in the food industry to make efforts to produce items that are low in salt and fat but are still appealing because they appeal to the local palate.

Tokyo-based Toyo Suisan Kaisha Ltd. has answered that call, teaming up with local supermarket chain Universe Co. to devise a low-salt instant ramen.

The collaborative process began in November of last year and the first two Gekimen brand instant noodles went on sale in late August.

Available in soy sauce and miso flavours, an individual portion costs 118 yen (US$1.05) but contains just 4 grams of salt, 25 per cent less salt than average instant noodle products, the company said.

The new range has been welcomed by the governor of Aomori Prefecture, the Asahi newspaper reported, who sampled both varieties in a press event.

“Residents of Aomori Prefecture often drink all the salty broth of instant noodles,” Governor Shingo Mimura said.

“I am glad they have made a start toward promoting our prefecture’s campaign to enable consumers to reduce their salt intake without making a conscious effort.”

Local media have reported that the Gekimen brand has swiftly found a firm following in the prefecture and the company is considering a nationwide release.

Source: SCMP


Read also at The Asahi Shimbun:

Less-salty ramen cup developed to raise Aomori’s life expectancy . . . . .

Study Finds Average Consumption of Salt Safe for Heart Health

Andrew Mente wrote . . . . . . . .

New research shows that for the vast majority of individuals, sodium consumption does not increase health risks except for those who eat more than five grams a day, the equivalent of 2.5 teaspoons of salt.

Fewer than five per cent of individuals in developed countries exceed that level.

The large, international study also shows that even for those individuals there is good news. Any health risk of sodium intake is virtually eliminated if people improve their diet quality by adding fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, potatoes, and other potassium rich foods.

The research, published in The Lancet, is by scientists of the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences, along with their research colleagues from 21 countries.

The study followed 94,000 people, aged 35 to 70, for an average of eight years in communities from 18 countries around the world and found there an associated risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes only where the average intake is greater than five grams of sodium a day.

China is the only country in their study where 80 per cent of communities have a sodium intake of more than five grams a day. In the other countries, the majority of the communities had an average sodium consumption of 3 to 5 grams a day (equivalent to 1.5 to 2.5 teaspoons of salt).

“The World Health Organization recommends consumption of less than two grams of sodium — that’s one teaspoon of salt — a day as a preventative measure against cardiovascular disease, but there is little evidence in terms of improved health outcomes that individuals ever achieve at such a low level,” said Andrew Mente, first author of the study and a PHRI researcher.

He added that the American Heart Association recommends even less — 1.5 grams of sodium a day for individuals at risk of heart disease.

“Only in the communities with the most sodium intake — those over five grams a day of sodium – which is mainly in China, did we find a direct link between sodium intake and major cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke.

“In communities that consumed less than five grams of sodium a day, the opposite was the case. Sodium consumption was inversely associated with myocardial infarction or heart attacks and total mortality, and no increase in stroke.”

Mente added: “We found all major cardiovascular problems, including death, decreased in communities and countries where there is an increased consumption of potassium which is found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, potatoes and nuts and beans.”

The information for the research article came from the ongoing, international Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study run by the PHRI. Mente is also an associate professor of the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence and Impact at McMaster University.

Most previous studies relating sodium intake to heart disease and stroke were based on individual-level information, said Martin O’Donnell, co-author of the report, a PHRI researcher and an associate clinical professor of medicine at McMaster.

“Public health strategies should be based on best evidence. Our findings demonstrate that community-level interventions to reduce sodium intake should target communities with high sodium consumption, and should be embedded within approaches to improve overall dietary quality.

“There is no convincing evidence that people with moderate or average sodium intake need to reduce their sodium intake for prevention of heart disease and stroke,” said O’Donnell.

Besides Canada, this research paper involved individual and community information from the countries of Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, China, Columbia, India, Iran, Malaysia, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Zimbabwe.

The study was funded by PHRI, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, European Research Council, as well as unrestricted grants from several pharmaceutical companies, and grants from health agencies or ministries of 18 countries.

Source: McMaster University


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How Much Sodium Should You Eat Per Day?

Kris Gunnars wrote . . . . . . . . .

“Salt is what makes things taste bad when it isn’t in them.” – Unknown

Sodium is one of those things that everyone “knows” is unhealthy… kind of like saturated fat.

The government has been warning us about it for decades and has spent a massive amount of resources warning us about the “dangers” of it.

The reason they do so, is that sodium is believed to increase blood pressure, a common risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

These are the two most common sources of death in middle- and high income countries.

The major health organizations recommend that we cut back on sodium:

  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): 2300 mg.
  • American Heart Association (AHA): 1500 mg (2).
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND): 1500 to 2300 mg.
  • American Diabetes Association (ADA): 1500 to 2300 mg.

So… there is definitely a consensus among these organizations that we should aim for less than 1500 mg of sodium per day, and definitely not more than 2300 mg.

Keep in mind that salt contains both sodium and chloride. Only 40% of the weight of salt consists of sodium, so you can actually eat 2.5 times more salt than sodium.

1500 mg of sodium amounts to 0.75 teaspoons or 3.75 grams of salt per day, while 2300 mg amounts to one teaspoon or 6 grams of salt per day.

Most people today are eating much more than that. The average intake of sodium is about 3400 mg, most of it coming from processed foods.

If these health organizations have their way, all of us need to make drastic changes in our food choices, start reading labels and start to actively restrict the amount of sodium in our diets.

I have to say, I’m skeptical… these health organizations do have a track record of getting things wrong in the past, such as the misguided low-fat dietary guidelines.

So is sodium really that bad? Do the studies show that reducing sodium intake actually leads to improved health?

And more importantly… if there are benefits to sodium restriction, are they important enough to be worth the obvious reduction in pleasure we will derive from our (now tasteless, salt-free) foods?

Let’s find out…

Sodium – What is it and Why do we Care?

Sodium is a crucial electrolyte in the body. Many foods contain small amounts of sodium naturally, but most of the sodium in the diet comes from salt.

Salt is made of sodium (40% by weight) and chloride (60% by weight).

What sodium does in the body is to bind water and maintain intracellular and extracellular fluids in the right balance.

It is also an electrically charged molecule, and along with potassium helps maintain electrical gradients across cell membranes, which is critical for nerve transmission, muscular contraction, and various other functions.

The body can NOT function without sodium. Period.

The more sodium we have in our bloodstream, the more water it binds. For this reason, sodium is thought to increase blood pressure (which it does, but only mildly).

If blood pressure is elevated, the heart has to work harder to push the blood throughout the body and there is increased strain on the arteries and various organs.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for many serious diseases, like heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.

Reducing Sodium Can Mildly Lower Blood Pressure

It is definitely true that reducing sodium can lower blood pressure, but the effect isn’t as strong as you may think.

In a massive Cochrane review of 34 randomized controlled trials, salt restriction was shown to reduce blood pressure:

  • Individuals with elevated blood pressure: A reduction of 5.39 mm Hg systolic and 2.82 mm Hg for diastolic.
  • Individuals with normal blood pressure: A reduction of 2.42 mm Hg systolic and 1.00 mm Hg for diastolic.

Be aware that these numbers are only averages. Some people may have seen impressive reductions, while others little to no effects.

As with most things in nutrition, the results depend on the individual.

Sodium Restriction… Does it Even Work?

Doctors and nutritionists tell us to cut back on sodium because they believe that it will reduce our risk of serious diseases.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that blood pressure itself doesn’t kill anyone directly. It’s a risk factor, not necessarily a cause of disease.

Even though some intervention successfully lowers a risk factor, it doesn’t mean that this automatically reduces the risk of disease, especially if the intervention causes other adverse effects that outweigh the benefit.

When studies examine the effects of sodium restriction on actual disease, instead of just some marker, no statistically significant effects are found.

Another Cochrane review of 7 randomized controlled trials (the gold standard of research) noted that there is no effect on mortality or cardiovascular disease, even in individuals diagnosed with high blood pressure (4)!

Other studies confirm these findings. There is no benefit to sodium restriction when it comes to preventing heart disease or death (5, 6).

Too Little Sodium Can Cause Downright Harm

The health authorities do have an excellent track record of getting things wrong.

They’ve given us a lot of bad advice in the past, such as telling us to cut back on saturated fat and eat 50-60% of calories as carbohydrates.

It looks like the advice on sodium is bad advice too.

Not only is it probably useless for the majority of people, these guidelines may even cause downright harm.

Multiple studies show that salt restriction causes adverse effects on health:

Increased LDL and Triglycerides: In a massive review, low sodium diets were found to cause an increase in LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) by 4.6% and an increase in triglycerides by 5.9% (8).

Insulin resistance: In one study, just 7 days on a low sodium diet increased insulin resistance, a leading cause of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome (9).

Type II Diabetes: A study found that in patients with type II diabetes, less sodium was associated with an increased risk of death (10).

Hyponatremia: In athletes, a low sodium intake can cause hyponatremia, a sodium deficiency which can be very dangerous (11).

The Importance of Other Dietary Factors

There are many lifestyle factors that can influence blood pressure to an even greater degree than sodium restriction.

Some of them include the minerals magnesium and potassium, which you should be getting if you eat plenty of animals and plants (12, 13).

Another way is to indulge in a bit of dark chocolate every now and then.

A low-carb diet lowers insulin levels, which causes the kidneys to excrete excess sodium from the body. Low-carb diets are an excellent way to reduce blood pressure and improve health (17, 18).

And last but not least, exercise is a very powerful way to reduce blood pressure and will improve your health in more ways than you can imagine (19, 20).

It seems fairly ridiculous to me to blindly focus on sodium, when there are so many other lifestyle factors that can have a much stronger effect.

How Much Sodium is Optimal?

If your doctor has recommended that you limit sodium for whatever reason, then by all means continue to do so.

However, for people who are generally healthy and want to stay healthy, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to be even remotely concerned about moderate intakes of sodium.

Studies actually show that the effects of sodium may follow a J-shaped curve. Too little and too much are both harmful, the sweet spot is somewhere in between (21).

Also be aware that if you’re on a low-carb diet, your sodium requirement may go up.

It is probably best to consume unrefined varieties of salt, such as sea salt and Himalayan pink salt. They also contain various trace nutrients that may be important.

Given that most people get most of their sodium from processed foods and that studies on sodium restriction don’t show any benefit, then I’d like to propose this radical approach to optimizing your sodium intake.

No obsessive counting of milligrams required:

  1. Eat real food.
  2. Add salt whenever appropriate to make your food taste good.
  3. That’s it.

Source: Healthline


Read also:

Take it with a grain of salt . . . . .

6 Reasons You May Need to Eat More Salt . . . . .

A danger to public health? Uproar as scientist urges us to eat more salt . . . . .

Biomarker for Salt Sensitivity of Blood Pressure Discovered

For the first time researchers have identified a genetic marker (GNAI2) that is associated with the risk of salt sensitivity in blood pressure (BP) regardless of age or gender.

It is hoped that with this discovery a simple test to identify salt sensitivity of BP during a clinical visit can be developed.

High blood pressure (hypertension) impacts nearly one of every two adults in the U.S. and is the leading global non-communicable cause of death. It is projected to be the primary global cause of death and disability by 2020. Salt sensitivity in blood pressure is a major risk factor for hypertension and increased cardiovascular risk and is highly relevant given that 99 percent of U.S. adults exceed the recommended daily intake for salt.

“Our data highlights a potential genetic method to screen for the salt sensitivity of blood pressure that may identify patients who exhibit the salt sensitivity of blood pressure. Possessing this specific marker makes you three times more likely to be salt sensitive than people who don’t have the marker,” explained corresponding author Richard Wainford, PhD, associate professor of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM).

The researchers looked at two groups of patients. The first group had no change in blood pressure in response to high dietary salt intake (meaning they were salt resistant). The second group of patients had an increase in blood pressure in response to high dietary salt intake (salt sensitive). Both groups were then screened for genetic variation in the GNAI2 gene. Those patients with the gene variation were more likely to be salt sensitive.

“Developing a simple diagnostic biomarker of individual salt-sensitivity of BP would aid in identifying individuals at risk for developing salt sensitivity related complications (hypertension, cardiac, renal and cerebral diseases), and in risk stratification and treatment decisions in individuals with established salt-sensitive conditions.”

The findings appear in the journal Physiological Genomics.

Source: Science Daily


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