Reducing salt leads to major health benefits
5 April 2013
REDUCING SALT INTAKE LEADS TO MAJOR HEALTH BENEFITS
APPROXIMATELY 2.5M DEATHS A YEAR COULD BE PREVENTED WORLDWIDE
Two studies in today’s British Medical Journal(BMJ) [1,2] show that modest reductions in salt intake lower blood pressure without adverse effects and are associated with major reductions in strokes and heart attacks, the most common cause of death and disability in the UK.
A further study published simultaneously in the BMJ  shows that increasing potassium intake (mainly found in fruit and vegetables) also lowers blood pressure and reduces strokes. Additionally, there is evidence that the combination of reducing salt intake and increasing potassium is likely to have the greatest effect. Therefore the study shows the importance of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. In the rare cases where reducing salt is technically too difficult, it is recommended that manufacturers substitute salt with potassium.
Based on the blood pressure changes that are seen with salt reduction, approximately 2.5 million deaths a year could be prevented worldwide and many strokes and heart attacks which patients survive from could also be prevented. In the UK, salt has been reduced from 9.5g/day to 8.1g/day (15% reduction)  thereby saving a minimum of 9,000 deaths from strokes and heart attacks [5,6]. The current recommendations in the UK are to reduce salt intake further to 6g/day which would save more than 23,000 deaths/year in total . One of today’s studies also shows that there would be even greater health benefits if salt intake was reduced to 3g/day , a target already suggested by NICE  to be achieved by 2025.
The UK has led the world on salt reduction with small but progressive reductions in the huge amount of unnecessary salt added to our food by the food industry. However, precious time has been lost since 2010 when the coalition government took responsibility for nutrition from the Food Standards Agency to the Department of Health and made it part of the ‘Responsibility Deal’ and delayed the setting of further targets for the food industry to achieve.
‘These studies show that it is absolutely vital that the government forces the food industry to gradually reduce the amount of salt they add to our food by setting new targets. 80% of our salt intake is already hidden in food, i.e. the majority of consumers have no choice. If the food industry does not cooperate then the government must legislate, as has occurred in other countries (Portugal and South Africa)’. Says Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute, Barts and London Hospitals, and Chairman of CASH
Salt reduction has been shown in the UK to be one of the most cost-effective public health programmes, according to NICE, saving 1.5 billion pounds in health care costs per year [5,6]. Other countries in the world, where most of the salt comes courtesy of the food industry, now need to start their own salt reduction programmes with a similar policy to the UK. In countries where most of the salt is added by the consumer, a public health campaign needs to be conducted to encourage the consumers to add less salt both at the table and during cooking, in order to save the maximum number of lives possible.
Notes to Editor
Go to www.actiononsalt.org.uk for more information or contact:
• Professor Graham MacGregor on: 020 7882 6217 or 07946 405617, email@example.com
• Clare Farrand on: 020 7882 6229 or 07711 326956 firstname.lastname@example.org
• Jessica Filbey on: 020 7242 2844/ 07967 215644 , email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Please click on the links below to access journal articles:
Paper 1: Effect of longer term modest salt reduction on blood pressure: Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials
Paper 2: Effect of lower sodium intake on health: systematic review and meta-analyses:
Paper 3: Effect of increased potassium intake on cardiovascular risk factors and disease: systematic review and meta-analyses:
URL for readers to click on once embargo lifted: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/doi/10.1136/bmj.f1325
URL for readers to click on once embargo lifted: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/doi/10.1136/bmj.f1326
URL for readers to click on once embargo lifted: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/doi/10.1136/bmj.f1378
1. He FJ, Li J, MacGregor GA. Effect of longer term modest salt reduction on blood pressure: Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials. BMJ 2013;346:f1325 doi: 10.1136/bmj.f1325.
2. Aburto NJ, Ziolkovska A, Hooper L, Elliott P, Cappuccio FP, Meerpohl JJ. Effect of lower sodium intake on health: systematic review and meta-analyses. BMJ 2013;346:f1326 doi: 10.1136/bmj.f1326
3. Aburto NJ, Hanson S, Gutierrez H, Hooper L, Elliott P, Cappuccio FP. Effect of increased potassium intake on cardiovascular risk factors and disease: systematic review and meta-analyses. BMJ 2013;346:f1378 doi: 10.1136/bmj.f1378.
4. Department of Health: Assessment of Dietary Sodium Levels Among Adults (aged 19-64) in England, 2011. http://transparency.dh.gov.uk/2012/06/21/sodium-levels-among-adults/.
5. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Guidance on the prevention of cardiovascular disease at the population level. http://guidance.nice.org.uk/PH25.
6. Ofcom, Office of Communications. Impact assessment. http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/foodads_new/ia.pdf.