Is Salt a Killer?
May 24, 2012 12:26PM
By Michael E. Doyle
For thousands of years, people across the globe have been enjoying salt and salty foods. Salt was so important that it was even used as money. But over the past few decades doctors and health experts have been saying that salt is dangerous and that we should all cut back on it. So, who is right?
So far, it looks like the “health experts” are wrong. Although studies have shown that severely cutting back on salt can lower blood pressure by a few points, there is no proof that salt restriction improves overall health. In fact, many studies show exactly the opposite.
Not long ago, a large study from Albert Einstein medical school concluded that people with the lowest sodium intake had the highest rate of heart-related death (Am J Med. 2006). Several years earlier, researchers found the same thing, pointing out that that “sodium intake was inversely associated with… mortality". Translation: people with the lowest salt intake were most likely to die. Likewise, a review of the effects of dietary salt concluded that salt restriction “was not scientifically justified".
While cutting back on salt (and sodium) often reduces blood pressure slightly, it may have other effects, too. Several studies have shown that potentially harmful effects may result from reducing salt. These findings include elevations in blood sugar, cholesterol and insulin levels in people on low salt diets. So it is possible that too little salt could actually be harmful for many people.
While these studies do not prove that everyone should eat lots of salt, they do strongly suggest that most of us don't need to worry about moderate salt intake. In fact, salt may be good for many of us. Obviously, everybody is different and some people can certainly be harmed by excess salt. So, be sure to talk to your doctor before making major dietary changes.
The moral of the story is simple: Expert or otherwise, when someone tells you to do the opposite of what people have always done, take pause. Make sure that they have proof that they are right. They often don’t.
Michael E. Doyle, MD is a board-certified Family Physician whose practice combines Conventional and Alternative medicine and includes nutritional and bio-identical hormone therapies. Dr. Doyle practices in Stamford. He can be reached at 203-324-4747. GoToDrDoyle.com.