Hazards of Too Much Salt

April 28, 2011

Recent research has created a broad consensus about connections between salt and health. We eat too much salt and our excessive intake of salt - Americans consume 1-1/2 teaspoons a day - negatively effects our health. Most of the research on the effects of dietary salt and health has been focused on high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and heart failure. The majority of these studies show that blood pressure rises as the amount of salt intake increases, and that salt reduction lowers cardiovascular disease and death rates over the long term. Recently, extensive reviews of thirteen separate studies were conducted by a team from the University of Naples Medical School in Italy and the University of Warwick in England. These studies, which included 177,025 men and women who were followed from 3.5 years to 19 years, were combined. Over the follow-up period, more than 11,000 of the participants experienced a heart attack or stroke, developed another form of cardiovascular disease, or died of cardiovascular disease. This additional research indicated that higher salt consumption was associated with a 23 percent increase in stroke and a 14 percent increase in heart disease.  Additionally, the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research recently concluded that salt, as well as salted and salty foods, are a probable cause of stomach cancer. Salt also has a negative effect on bones, by causing the body to flush out calcium with urine. The higher the salt use, the more calcium is flushed. As calcium levels are reduced, it is leached out of the bones. A study in post-menopausal women showed that the loss of hip bone density over two years was related to the 24-hour urinary clearing of salt from the body, and that the connection with bone loss was as important as calcium replacement regimens. Other studies have shown that a reduction of salt intake slows the loss of calcium from bone that occurs with aging. How can we reduce our salt intake? Most of us get far more salt than we need while averaging about half of the recommended amount of potassium for adults, and it's getting worse! There has been a 55 percent increase in the average salt intake since the 1970s. Most of the daily salt in our diets, about 75 percent, comes from prepared food.  There are three simple measures your can take to reduce your intake of salt, read the ingredients of all your purchases of prepared food and make good choices, eat more fresh food, and look for low salt menu items when you eat out. Fill your menu with unprocessed food - fruits, vegetables, whole grains, wild fish, and naturally raised meats and dairy products - and you'll reap benefits beyond a reduction of salt in your diet ... you'll increase your intake of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber and potassium, resulting in a healthier you!

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