Study shakes belief that salt is a risk

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The Independent Online
SALT is bad for you - or it may be good for you, depending on the latest scientific paper you read.

The link between salt and health is thrown into confusion today with the publication of a study suggesting that those who eat least die soonest.

Previous research has suggested that high consumption of salt increases the risk of early death and current British government advice is to cut consumption by 30 per cent .

For latest new study, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York examined details of the diets of more than 11,000 people in the United States collected between 1971 and 1975. The participants had been asked to record all they ate in a 24-hour period.

The researchers then examined death records for 1992 to see who had died in the intervening 20 years.

They found that those with the highest salt intake - in the top quarter of the study group - had an 18 per cent lower death rate than those in the lowest group.

The results, published in The Lancet medical journal, are valuable, according to the researchers, because they link salt intake with eventual death rather than with blood pressure, as other studies have done.

The researchers conclude that the results are not strong enough to justify advice to increase salt intake but they also "do not support current recommendations for routine reduction of sodium consumption".

However, British scientists said that the paper contained "misleading statements and methodological flaws" and said the practice of assessing salt intake on the basis of a "single dietary recall" was notoriously inaccurate.

Consensus Action on Salt and Hypertension, a group of scientists concerned with salt and its effects on health who are led by Professor Graham MacGregor, of St George's Hospital Medical School in London, said that there was "overwhelming evidence" that a high salt intake was a major cause of high blood pressure.

"Blood pressure is the most important predisposing factor to strokes and heart attacks, the commonest cause of death in the Western world," the professor said.

The Committee on Medical Aspects of Nutrition Policy, set up to advise the Government, recommended in its report on heart disease that average salt intake in the United Kingdom should be reduced from nine grams to six grams a day.

Most salt is hidden in processed food and the scientists say that more must be done to reduce the salt content and to label it clearly in these foods.