Salt getting loaded into truck in Chennai
Salt getting loaded into a supply truck in ChennaiReuters

Researchers are claiming that the current salt intake recommendations are too strict and healthy people can eat about twice the amount of salt that is currently recommended. This finding could potentially undermine the currently popular public health messages and widespread beliefs about salt consumptions.

While the puritanical American Heart Association says that an intake of even 1.5 gm salt is too much, the more generous American federal health officials advocate 1.5 to 2.3 gm each day.

However, according to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, a generous amount of 3-6 gm salt is healthy.

The study based on one lakh people from 18 different countries were published on 13 August and suggested that while there is undeniably a relation between high salt intake and high blood pressure, if you do not suffer from high blood pressure already and are not aged over 60, salt intake will not affect your blood pressure.

The study, which was funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario and others, even suggested that people who consume 3-6 gm salt per day had a lower risk of death and cardio vascular troubles than those who consumed less.

While the American Heart Association has objected to these new developments, Dr Suzzane Oparil, a cardiologist at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, wrote an editorial in support of the survey's publication.

While the study does not urge eaters to pile on salt, she prefers that people would reduce sugary drinks and take up the Mediterranean diet (rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil and a little wine) rather than regulate the salt aspect of the diet, she clarified.

"There is no question that very large amounts of salt, especially if you are not eating potassium concomitantly, will drive blood pressure up," Oparil told NBC news. "High blood pressure is associated with cardiovascular disease, but the correlation is strongest in people with high blood pressure and people who are older."

On the other hand, Dr Elliot Antman, president of the American Heart Association, noted that the new study is observational and is not the apt one to determine the cause and effect of salt intake accurately. He added that the study was too short to draw any long-term conclusion regarding cardiovascular diseases, which could take over decades to develop.

Oparil acknowledged the weaknesses of the study, but was adamant that it did have a massive impact nonetheless. The researchers plan to extend the study to measure long-term effects.

The New England Journal of Medicine itself published yet another study on the same day that arrived at a different conclusion. Combining results form a wide variety of existing studies, it arrived at the conclusion that 1.6 million deaths from cardiovascular causes in 2010 were linked to sodium consumption over 2 gm per day.

While Antman called that finding vital, Oparil was quick to dismiss the study as being conducted based on flawed data.

The AHA confirmd it would continue to recommend lower sodium intake and urged the government to do the same. "Looking at the totality of the data, we consider it irresponsible not to make recommendations to lower salt content," Antman said.

"Japan, one of the highest salt consumers, has one of the longest lifespans," Oparil backed her stand and added, "Try to eat natural foods. Cook your own food, as opposed to eating fast food and snack foods."