Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco conducted a study to determine the impact that reducing salt intake could have on reducing heart disease and resulting deaths. Using a computer simulation called the Coronary Heart Disease Policy Model, the scientists found that a single gram of salt removed from people’s diet could result in more than 800,000 “life years” saved between 2010 and 2019. If that amount were increased to 6 grams less per day, the impact was even more dramatic: there would be 1.4 million fewer cases of heart disease – and 1.1 million fewer deaths.
Despite the known health risks associated with using too much salt, Americans consume 9 to 12 grams a day, the majority of which comes from processed food. This represents a 50 percent increase in salt intake since the 1970s. And notes the study’s researchers, blood pressure rates have risen by nearly the same rate.
“We found that very small reductions in salt intake would have very large health benefits in the U.S. population,” said lead researcher Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, who presented the findings at the recent American Heart Association’s Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention annual conference, held in Palm Harbor, Fl. Furthermore, Dr. Bibbins-Domingo noted that the benefits would be even greater for African-Americans. “They are more likely to have high blood pressure and their blood pressure is more likely to be sensitive to salt,” she said. For example, the study found that by cutting 3 grams of salt a day from our diets, there would be 3 percent fewer deaths. But if African-Americans reduced their salt intake by the same amount, that rate would double to 6 percent fewer deaths from heart disease. According to Dr. Bibbins-Domingo, health organizations recommend 5 to 6 grams of salt a day.