News / USA

Modest Dietary Salt Reduction Lowers Heart Disease Risk; Health Care Costs

Jessica Berman

A new US study shows modest reductions in dietary salt intake can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease while at the same time significantly lowering health care costs.

The US government recommends that Americans limit their salt intake no more than 5.8 grams per day to reduce their likelihood of developing high blood pressure, a risk factor cardiovascular disease. 

Yet the average man in this country consumes over 10 grams per day, and women consume more than seven grams of salt - most of it coming from prepared and processed fast foods.

Investigators, led by Kirsten Bibbens-Domingo of the University of California San Francisco, used a model to calculate what the health and economic impact would be if Americans reduced their salt intake by three grams per day or approximately one third of a teaspoon.

Researchers found the results from a modest reduction in salt consumption were striking. "About 100,000 fewer heart attacks each year, about 92,000 fewer deaths each year; 66,000 fewer strokes each year," she said.

Researchers concluded that a population-wide reduction in salt would reduce health care costs each year in the US by between $10 and $24 billion.

Investigators say even a modest one gram reduction of salt each day per person in the US between now and 2019 would be more cost-effective than the use of medications to lower the blood pressure of all people with hypertension.

Bibbins-Domingo notes salt is put in packaged food to make it taste better.  And many people find less salty food is bland. 

But in other countries, such as Great Britain where salt reductions have been mandated, she says people quickly became accustomed to the taste of less salt in their diet. "Our taste receptors we know down-regulate as we start to eat slightly less salt.  And so we start to expect and become accustomed to slightly less salt in the food," she aid.

The study by Bibbins-Domingo and colleagues on the health and economic benefits of less dietary salt in the US is published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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