A study published in last week’s British Medical Journal (BMJ) seemed to confirm what our health gurus already know. Apparently salt is not good for you.
The paper reviewed a series of studies on salt intake conducted between 1985 and 2007. The results were all over the map. But the authors said if you looked at them just the right way, they showed that if you ate more salt your risks of stroke and heart disease were much higher than otherwise.
The theory goes that if you eat less salt, less water will be drawn into your bloodstream and you will have lower blood pressure. And blood pressure is a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke. So they concluded we should all continue to try harder to reduce our salt intake.
Huh? Didn’t we already know this? Isn’t this old news? Why on earth would anyone need to confirm something that we’ve been told since at least 1979? Well it seems the dangers of salt are nowhere near as certain as we have been led to believe.
According to the salt industry, the results are questionable because two of the study’s authors are members of a strident anti-salt group, but didn’t disclose this to the BMJ. And it doesn’t take long to find major studies which flat out contradict those results. Just last year, a significant study showed that (at least in the US), low salt levels actually increase your risk of death from heart disease.
Some small salt studies have shown that decreasing salt will lower blood pressure (and quite a few haven’t). But the favourable results (of less than 2% decrease) are hardly earth shattering. In fact, it’s possible to get similar effects just by decreasing the amount of water someone drinks prior to having their blood pressure taken.
Whether salt really increases (or reduces) your risk of death from a heart attack is clearly far from settled. But that hasn’t stopped nutritionists, Food Standards Australia and the Heart Foundation lobbying furiously for decreases in our daily salt allowance.
Meanwhile the link between sugar (well, at least the fructose half of sugar anyway) and high blood pressure has been growing stronger by the day. A study released last month confirmed that fructose directly causes high blood pressure. The researchers were able to raise participants’ blood pressure by 5 percent in just two weeks by giving them the amount of fructose contained in 3.5 litres of softdrink per day (about 3 times the American average).
The blood pressures returned to normal after two months off the high sugar diet. The study is clearly not a real world example but the effect was pronounced and very, very quick. No study of salt intervention has ever produced anything like it.
Another study released last month backs up the link. In that one, the soft-drink consumption habits of 4,528 people were analysed. Participants who consumed more than 74g of fructose a day (about the same as in 1.3 litres of soft drink and bang on the American average) significantly (87%) increased their risk of having dangerously high blood pressure. Once again, no salt study has ever shown anything like that effect.
But while the Heart Foundation campaigns against salt, it hands out ‘ticks’ to high sugar products like fruit bars and fruit juices. And when salt concerns are put to food processors they respond with good intentions – oh dear, yes there is too much salt in food – we must do better. But try saying that kind of thing about sugar and you get letters from the legal department.
I wonder why that is? Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that reducing salt (from anything to anything) is a great marketing claim and it probably won’t affect the sales of the product. But reducing sugar (when your competitors don’t) will probably cost you serious money. Unlike salt, sugar is highly addictive.
It’s time we suspended the phoney war on salt and started a real war on the real culprit: sugar.
Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Join the discussion 10 Comments
“The blood pressures returned to normal after two months off the high sugar diet. The study is clearly not a real world example but the effect was pronounced and very, very quick. No study of salt intervention has ever produced anything like it.”
This was my experience. My blood pressure was hovering around 140/90 for about the last 2 years and then dropped to 125/75 about 2 months after cutting the fructose down. Certainly not a scientific test and perhaps there were other factors in play but I am not willing to go back on the fructose to see if it goes back up. If you have high blood pressure give it try – and see what happens when you cut the fructose right down for a few months.
See also discussion of Potassium as a confounder associated with Sodium (whilst broadly supporting the fructose link) to hypertension, at http://nephropal.blogspot.com/2009/12/hypertension-and-metabolic-syndrome.html#comments
[…] Sugar, not salt, causes high blood pressure […]
Here is a very recent review of the evidence which arrives at essentially the same conclusion. DiNicolantonio JJ,
Lucan SC. The wrong white crystals: not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease.
Open Heart 2014;1:e000167. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2014-000167
[…] confirms a long line of studies which have concluded that the fructose half of sugar is the cause of high blood pressure and not […]
I think it should be “sugar and salt causes high blood pressure”. It was just 6 months ago that I was diagnosed with hypertension. BP was 140/100. Did my research but made the mistake of totally kicking out salt from my diet. In less than 2 months, BP crashed to 90/60. So I moderately introduced salt back little by little until my BP was sitting between 110/70 and 100/70. Until now this is my normal BP, gonna be turning 40years of age this year.
I think there are things other than sugar that affect the heart rate too. I have Ulcerative Colitis. When the colon gets inflamed, it does not absorb water, sodium, potassium, magnesium, … As a result, I have issues with the denominator in my BP reading going under 50.
Thanks for sharing this information. Salt and sugar are not good for high blood pressure. To control the high blood pressure you should concern your doctor.
Ask 10 different people the same question, you generally get 10 different answers. Bottom line: If it hasn’t been proven, it’s purely someone’s speculation. If someone tells you something is bad for you, that person carries the burden of proof. Don’t bet your health on opinions, fads and the “latest thing”. Thoroughly research everything. At the end of the day you’ll find, like in most things these days, recommendations designed to protect profits and/or agendas. Big pharm is a very good example. Don’t fall into that trap. Don’t be fooled.