Reducing salt in the American diet by as little as one-half teaspoon (or three grams) per day could prevent nearly 100,000 heart attacks and 92,000 deaths each year, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia and UCSF. Such benefits are on par with the benefits from reductions in smoking and could save the United States about $24 billion in health-care costs.
The findings were reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research team’s results were derived from the Coronary Heart Disease Policy Model, a computer simulation of heart disease among U.S. adults that has been used by researchers to project benefits from public health interventions.
The CHD Policy Model found that reducing dietary salt by three grams per day (about 1,200 mg of sodium) would result in 11 percent fewer new cases of heart disease, 13 percent fewer heart attacks, 8 percent fewer strokes, and 4 percent fewer deaths. For African-Americans, who researchers believe are more likely to have high blood pressure and may be more sensitive to salt, this degree of salt reduction could reduce new cases of heart disease by 16 percent and heart attacks by 19 percent.
Most salt comes from processed foods, not from the salt shaker, but the food industry and food industry regulations could contribute substantially to the health of the nation by achieving even small reductions in the amount of salt in processed foods, the researchers say.