Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Cutting back on salt 'does not make you healthier' (despite nanny state warnings)

Cochrane reviews are reviews of the best available evidence on the subject so attempts to discredit this study are unconvincing. That the review looked at "only" seven studies would indicate that other available studies were not of review quality

Eating less salt will not prevent heart attacks, strokes or early death, according to a major study. Its findings contradict all recommendations by the Government and medical profession urging the public to reduce the amount of salt they consume.

Research involving nearly 6,500 people concluded that there was ‘no strong evidence’ that lowering levels in the diet reduced the risk of heart disease or premature death. In fact it found that cutting back on salt actually raises the likelihood of death in some patients with heart problems.

The researchers from Exeter University say that the benefits of cutting back on salt may have been ‘overestimated’. They also point out that there are other important lifestyle factors such as eating fruit, taking exercise, following a low-fat diet and not smoking which will also affect the health of an individual.

The findings have been criticised by campaigners and other scientists, who say there is strong evidence that reducing levels of salt will protect the heart.

They say the reason the study did not show that cutting back on salt prevented heart attacks may be because the people involved reduced their intake only for short periods of time.

Large amounts of salt in the diet increase the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Currently adults are advised to eat no more than 6g of salt a day – or one teaspoon – but it is estimated they average 9g a day.

The Government has begun working with manufacturers, fast food firms and restaurants to try to get them to reduce the amount of salt in their products. And in recent years there have been campaigns urging the public to try to cut down on foods high in it, such as ready meals, takeaways and cereals.

But research published today in the Cochrane Review journal concludes there is limited evidence that cutting down on salt reduces the risk of illness or early death.

The authors from Exeter University looked at seven published studies involving 6,489 people. Some had high blood pressure, others had normal blood pressure and they had all been put on salt-reduction diets.

But the authors found that there was no evidence that cutting down reduced deaths or heart disease in either group. And they found that patients with heart failure who cut back on salt were actually at higher risk of death – possibly because the change in diet is such a shock to the body.

But the researchers insist that their study does not mean government salt reduction campaigns have been a waste of time. Lead researcher Rod Taylor, from the University of Exeter, said: ‘Perhaps surprisingly we didn’t find any statistically significant reduction in death or cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes.’

He pointed out that most of the previous research showing that diets low in salt prevent heart disease do not account for the fact people who eat less salt are healthy in general – they take exercise, eat plenty of fruit and tend not to smoke.

He suggested the public would need to cut back on salt for long periods to benefit. The only way this could be done would be to get restaurants, fast food chains and office canteens to reduce the content in their meals.

Katharine Jenner, of Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said: ‘It is very disappointing that the message from this small review indicates that salt reduction may not be beneficial. ‘This is a completely inappropriate conclusion, given the strong evidence and the overwhelming public health consensus that salt raises blood pressure which leads to cardiovascular disease.

‘This review is based on just seven studies that were not designed to test the effects of sodium reduction interventions on cardiovascular events and mortality.’

Simon Capewell, professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, said the study was disappointing and inconclusive.


Light drinking during pregnancy 'is safe' and will not harm your baby, claim experts

Expectant mothers can drink small amounts of alcohol without harming their baby, claim experts. Enjoying one or two glasses of wine a week - about two units - does not raise the risk of premature birth or impair the foetus's growth.

According to research - which looked at 36 studies from around the world on alcohol intake and pregnancy - it is safe to drink the equivalent of half a unit a day.

The finding is likely to add to the confusion surrounding alcohol and pregnancy. Department of Health guidelines advise expectant mothers to abstain completely.

But researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto found that consuming 10g of alcohol a day – just over half a unit – would not harm the unborn baby’s development or increase the chance of premature birth.

It means women should be able to enjoy one or two glasses of wine – one or two units – once or twice a week without harming their unborn child.

But drinking any more than 10g of alcohol a day – just over half a unit – substantially increased the dangers, the researchers told BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Women who drank 30g a day – about one and a half glasses of wine – raised the chance of the foetus being undeveloped or of going into labour prematurely by nearly a quarter.

Drinking heavily has been shown to increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth and babies are more likely to be born with deformities.

Patrick O’Brien, of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: ‘Women should be careful about the amount of alcohol they consume when pregnant, especially in the first trimester. ‘The RCOG advises if a woman gets pregnant, she should abstain from alcohol. ‘However, if she would like to have a drink, current evidence shows one or two units, once or twice a week, is acceptable after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

‘This does not mean women can use this as an excuse to indulge in more than the recommended amount in the UK.’

It is very difficult to know exactly how many units there are in a glass of wine or measure of spirits. For this reason many health experts recommend women abstain completely throughout pregnancy.


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