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Is Salt Getting a Bad Rap for Nothing? Study Shows More Salt Isn't Harmful

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Salt may not be as hazardous to health as traditionally believed, according to new research from Emory University and the University of Michigan.

Records of healthy medicare patients were examined, and reports of caloric intake were balanced against sodium consumption, recording a sodium density of diets. Researchers found this number did not appear to have any significant effect on survivability over a 10-year period.

"Low sodium content in the diet might increase the levels of aldosterone and catecholamines and other so-called neurohormones that might contribute to cardiovascular damage," Scott Hummel of the University of Michigan said, referring to a pair of hormones present in the adrenal gland.

Participants in the study were asked to complete a food frequency questionnaire, two years into the program. Patients reported on the quantity of food they consumed in each of 108 categories. Data was adjusted to correct for such factors as heart rate, depression, and cholesterol levels.
 
Of the 2,642 people examined in the study, 881 died in the decade considered by investigators. Those patients who took in high concentrations of sodium had the highest death rate - 35 percent. However, those with low intakes of the element were next at 34 percent. People consuming moderate amounts of sodium were - marginally - the healthiest, with a 31 percent fatality rate during that time. However, none of these results are statistically significant. This suggests that sodium has little effect on overall fatality rates.

Sodium intake was found to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease by just three percent, and heart failure did not rise at all with increased concentrations of the mineral.

Men were found to take in sodium levels about 23 percent higher than women, according to the new research.

Subjects examined in the study were all healthy at the time data was recorded, so conclusions of the study are not likely valid for those with higher risks of cardiovascular disease. The group was 62 percent Caucasian, and 38 percent of African descent. No other races were examined as part of the new study.  

Dietary guidelines developed by the federal government recommend that American adults consume 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day of sodium. These recommended levels decline to 1,500 mg for African-Americans, as well as other people over the age of 50. Previous research revealed lowering sodium levels provides little benefit for cardiovascular health.

Dietary Sodium Content, Mortality, and Risk for Cardiovascular Events in Older Adults, detailing results of the new study on sodium, was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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