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One spoonful of salt less per day would save four million lives
Eating a teaspoon less of salt a day could save more than four million lives worldwide each year, experts have estimated. In the UK alone, this move could stop more than 40,000 people dying from a stroke or heart attack.
In a paper in the 24 November 2009 issue of the British Medical Journal, researchers looked at 13 studies into the effects of salt on raising stroke and heart attack risk. The studies - which involved more than 170,000 people - showed that there was a direct link between increasing salt intake and increasing risk of stroke and heart attack.
These findings build on previous knowledge that salt raises blood pressure and raised blood pressure is responsible for 65 per cent of strokes and 49 per cent of heart attacks across the world.
The researchers found that people who ate 10g of salt a day (or two teaspoons of salt) had a 23 per cent greater risk of stroke and a 17 per cent higher risk of developing heart disease than people who only ate 5g of salt a day (or one teaspoon of salt).
Worldwide, this means that there are roughly 1.25 million extra deaths from stroke and almost 3 million extra deaths from cardiovascular disease each year. In the UK 200,000 people die from heart disease each year and lowering salt intake could reduce this by about one-fifth or 40,000.
The UK Government is encouraging everyone to eat less than 6g of salt a day, but the average daily salt intake currently stands at 8.6g. Based on the latest findings, health campaigning group CASH (Consensus Action on Salt and Health) argues that the UK daily limit should be lowered to 4g a day.
But whatever the official limit for salt, the general principle still holds true: the lower your intake of salt, the better.
Commenting on the findings, Mike Rich, Executive Director of the Blood Pressure Association, said: "There is a UK-wide and global epidemic of cardiovascular disease: much of it to do with uncontrolled high blood pressure. The evidence is there to show that reducing your salt intake has a significant impact on blood pressure and would save lives.
"The UK has done well in reducing its average salt intake but it is clear that more needs to be done. The food industry needs to be further encouraged to reduce the amount of salt it uses in food and the public need to be made fully aware of the amount of salt they are eating.
"Targets are vital. Meeting them will save thousands of lives.
"The Blood Pressure Association encourages people to lower their sodium intake significantly. Four or six grammes? The lower the better. The important thing is to start doing it today."
Strazzullo P, D’Elia L, Kandala N-B, Cappuccio FP. Salt intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ 2009; 339: b4567.
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