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Eating Less Salt Can Save Lives

The World Heart Federation reports heart disease and stroke are the world's number one killer, causing 17.5 million deaths a year. The Federation says eating less salt could save millions of lives. Lisa Schlein has this report for VOA from Geneva on World Heart Day.

A pinch of salt could mean the difference between life and death. According to the World Heart Federation, eating half a teaspoon less of salt each day could save millions of lives.

President of the Federation, Shahryar Sheikh, says deaths from stroke would drop by more than 20 percent and deaths from heart disease by more than 15 percent just by cutting a small amount of salt out of the diet.

"Hypertension is the most important and the most prevalent risk factor right now in the world," said Sheikh "So, in the dietary change one can get a very good result even a small little thing like the reduction of salt can make a fair amount of difference in your blood pressure which can then give you a lot of beneficial effects."

The World Heart Federation says high blood pressure or hypertension, which is the biggest risk factor for heart disease and stroke, currently affects more than a billion people worldwide. It is predicted to afflict more than 1.5 billion people by 2025.

Shahryar Sheikh is a cardiologist who treats people with these ailments every day. In an interview from Lahore, Pakistan, he tells VOA cardiovascular diseases are a matter of life style.

"The way we eat, walk and drink. Like the way we are eating, that is what is contributing to your overweight, cholesterol and sugar," he added. "And, the same way like walking, with your physical exercise and weight control and then drinking. I mean you can have like heavy alcohol or heavy smoking."

Dr. Sheikh says these lifestyle diseases are going down in rich Western countries and increasing in developing countries. He says the vast majority of deaths from these diseases are taking place in Asian countries and in the Middle East.

"Sub-Saharan African countries, they are the only places where we do not have heart diseases as number one. They are not number one," he added. "But, they are catching up very fast. Hyper-tension is becoming very common in these countries."

For now, Dr. Shekh says people in Africa mainly die at a young age from infectious diseases and HIV/AIDS. But, he says he expects this to change as people start living longer and more of them adopt Western lifestyles.