Doctors, nutritionists and other wise folk will tell you if you want to be healthy or have high blood pressure, you have to restrict your salt intake. This oft repeated mantra is now deeply ingrained in our consciousness.
Time to challenge this myth masquerading as science.
First, take all advice to restrict salt…with a grain of salt.
In order to keep things interesting, I will just give you snippets of scientific evidence.
The Origin of the Low Salt Myth
It all started with some flawed studies in the 1950s by a scientist called Lewis Dahl.
Lewis Dahl was able to develop a strain of salt sensitive rats which routinely developed hypertension to support his firm belief in the value of salt restriction. This was widely heralded and cited by other low salt proponents as proof of the role of salt in hypertension. What they often neglect to mention is that these rats would have to be fed an amount of salt equivalent to over 500 grams daily for an adult human.
This study gained some traction over the years and eventually lead to an expensive and lengthy crusade by the government to prove a link between sodium and hypertension. The INTERSALT study of 10,000 subjects in 52 centers around the world started in December 1984 and was completed in April 1997. (Intersalt = International Study of Sodium, Potassium and Blood Pressure).
The INTERSALT researchers conveniently neglected to mention that the population of the four countries responsible for skewing the total figures to coincide with their preconceived conclusion also had less stress, less obesity, ate far less processed foods and much more fiber from fruits and vegetables. They also tended to die at younger ages from other causes and often too soon to have developed any significant degree of coronary atherosclerosis.
The INTERSALT study researchers were caught trying to prove their predetermined conclusions through data manipulation. It took three years for watchdog attorneys to finally obtain the raw data (through the Office of Research Integrity), dealing with just one of several specific questions that had been posed. This was enough to bring down the house of cards. A detailed explanation of how the data had been manipulated to support predetermined conclusions was published in the British Medical Journal in 1996 and was subsequently endorsed by various authorities.
Michael Alderman, a highly regarded epidemiologist and past president of The American Society of Hypertension scrutinized the same data in patients who were not overweight. He reported that "the more salt you eat, the less likely you are to die." (From heart disease or anything else).
Alderman has long been critical of the government's low sodium diet advice for large populations and their focus on sodium intake as it relates to blood pressure rather than to the overall health, quality and length of life of individuals. He examined the relationship between sodium intake and health effects in 3,000 patients with mild to moderate hypertension. In addition, his group measured sodium excretion, which is much more accurate than estimating dietary intake.
At the end of four years, Alderman’s team found that those who consumed the least sodium had the most myocardial infarctions (i.e. Heart attacks) and other cardiovascular complications.
The reason for this is that when you restrict vital nutrients like salt (or cholesterol), all sorts of strange things can result. Low sodium diets can increase levels of renin, LDL and insulin resistance, reduce sexual activity in men and cause cognitive difficulties and anorexia in the elderly. Tasteless and dull, low sodium diets can cause other nutritional deficiencies. Lowering sodium with diuretics to treat hypertension can cause similar problems.
Renin is possibly the most powerful and dangerous blood pressure raising substance known (NOT SALT). Indeed, the study done by Alderman's group found that for every 2% increase in pretreatment plasma renin activity there was a 25% increase in heart attacks. No such correlation was found with increased sodium intake.
Low salt diets may not be as entirely harmless as proponents often claim. In the meta-analysis survey, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association a few years ago, researchers reported that cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol increased with sodium reduction.
More importantly, blood levels of renin and aldosterone also rose in proportion to the degree of sodium reduction.
This compensatory response to increase blood volume would tend to raise blood pressure and possibly the likelihood of cardiovascular complications. Since the government began promoting sodium restriction and diuretics three decades ago, the incidence of hypertension and strokes has increased and the previous declining rate of heart attacks has leveled off.
An eight-year study of New York Hypertensives found that those on low-salt diets had more than four times as many heart attacks as people with normal sodium intake.
Exercise, alcohol, social environment and weight are the real determinants of blood pressure. Sodium intake [was] not associated with blood pressure.
(Life style as a blood pressure determinant: Jan A Staessen et al - Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine - September 1996)
A study of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease in 7,300 Scottish men, the largest intra-population study ever done with 24-hour urine samples: Sodium consumption does not play any major role in blood pressure.
(Urinary electrolyte excretion, alcohol consumption, and blood pressure in the Scottish heart health study. WCS Smith, IK Crombie, RT Tavendale, SK Gulland, HD Tunstall-Pedoe. BMJ vol 297 - 30th July 1988).
A Health Outcome study based on the NHANES
This study followed 20,000 individuals over a period of 20 years.
They found that those with the highest sodium intake had the lowest cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.
(Dietary sodium intake and mortality: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES I). Michael H Alderman, Hillel Cohen, Shantha Madhavan. The Lancet (vol 351 . March 14, 1998)
…and I can go on and on with many more studies.
The point is that we’ve been lied to by junk science and manipulated data (fitting a square peg in a round hole)…and even otherwise intelligent people fall prey to this because it is done “in the interest of the public” with tax dollars.
So where does that leave us?
Salt is NOT the culprit.
Stress, refined carbohydrates, hydrogenated fats and trans fatty acids, sugar, sedentary lifestyles, hormonal imbalances due to environmental “pseudo” estrogens, among other things are to blame.
Refined Salt: White Poison
Instead of maligning salt, both scientists and the general public should pressure the government to BAN Refined Table Salt…because that is not salt.
The problem is not with salt but the TYPE of salt we eat!
Unrefined sea salt contain 98% NaCl (sodium-chloride) and up to 2% other minerals i.e. Epsom salts and other Magnesium salts, Calcium salts, Potassium (Kalium) salts, Manganese salts, Phosphorus salts, Iodine salts. All together over 100 minerals composed of 80 chemical elements. Composition of a crystal of ocean salt is so complicated that no laboratory in the world can produce it from its basic 80 chemical elements. Nature is still a better chemist than humans!
When we use refined salt, we are in deficit of 80 elements, which means we are somehow contributing to becoming weaker, imbalanced and more susceptible to diseases.
- Each individual’s salt requirement varies constantly. Salt requirement is also different for different people. So there is no such thing as a recommended daily allowance as the anti-salt pundits would have you believe.
- There are 2 oceans of water within the body (inter-cellular and intra-cellular). The inter-cellular ocean is salt water, which is monitored very carefully by the body because it used in the energy-producing process.
- Salt restriction may lead to a condition called “low sodium syndrome” (hyponatremia), which results in muscle weakness, loss of vigor and other maladies.
My views on salt are not just based on research and theory. They are based on extensive real world experience treating many patients from different parts of the world (different genetics, different lifestyles, different diets, etc.).
At Uforia Centre for Integrated Medicine, we have helped many people safely get off their blood pressure medication and brought down their BP with diet, exercise and nutritional supplements…and NOT ONCE DID WE RESTRICT THEIR SALT INTAKE.
Enjoy your salt without guilt or fear…but let it be “real” salt in the form of unrefined sea salt or rock salt and not what masquerades as salt on supermarket shelves.
The pundits will scream, “What about iodine?”
You don’t need refined, iodized, table salt to get iodine.
Food Sources of Iodine:
- Lima beans
- Sea salt
- Sesame seeds
- Turnip greens