Monday, July 11, 2011

It's Time to End the War on Salt

The zealous drive by politicians to limit our salt intake has little basis in science -- and it's SciAm saying so

For decades, policy makers have tried and failed to get Americans to eat less salt. In April 2010 the Institute of Medicine urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate the amount of salt that food manufacturers put into products; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already convinced 16 companies to do so voluntarily. But if the U.S. does conquer salt, what will we gain? Bland french fries, for sure. But a healthy nation? Not necessarily.

This week a meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. In May European researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the less sodium that study subjects excreted in their urine—an excellent measure of prior consumption—the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease. These findings call into question the common wisdom that excess salt is bad for you, but the evidence linking salt to heart disease has always been tenuous.

Fears over salt first surfaced more than a century ago. In 1904 French doctors reported that six of their subjects who had high blood pressure—a known risk factor for heart disease—were salt fiends. Worries escalated in the 1970s when Brookhaven National Laboratory's Lewis Dahl claimed that he had "unequivocal" evidence that salt causes hypertension: he induced high blood pressure in rats by feeding them the human equivalent of 500 grams of sodium a day. (Today the average American consumes 3.4 grams of sodium, or 8.5 grams of salt, a day.)

Dahl also discovered population trends that continue to be cited as strong evidence of a link between salt intake and high blood pressure. People living in countries with a high salt consumption—such as Japan—also tend to have high blood pressure and more strokes. But as a paper pointed out several years later in the American Journal of Hypertension, scientists had little luck finding such associations when they compared sodium intakes within populations, which suggested that genetics or other cultural factors might be the culprit. Nevertheless, in 1977 the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs released a report recommending that Americans cut their salt intake by 50 to 85 percent, based largely on Dahl's work.

Scientific tools have become much more precise since then, but the correlation between salt intake and poor health has remained tenuous. Intersalt, a large study published in 1988, compared sodium intake with blood pressure in subjects from 52 international research centers and found no relationship between sodium intake and the prevalence of hypertension. In fact, the population that ate the most salt, about 14 grams a day, had a lower median blood pressure than the population that ate the least, about 7.2 grams a day. In 2004 the Cochrane Collaboration, an international, independent, not-for-profit health care research organization funded in part by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, published a review of 11 salt-reduction trials. Over the long-term, low-salt diets, compared to normal diets, decreased systolic blood pressure (the top number in the blood pressure ratio) in healthy people by 1.1 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by 0.6 mmHg. That is like going from 120/80 to 119/79. The review concluded that "intensive interventions, unsuited to primary care or population prevention programs, provide only minimal reductions in blood pressure during long-term trials." A 2003 Cochrane review of 57 shorter-term trials similarly concluded that "there is little evidence for long-term benefit from reducing salt intake."

More here

Faddist rubbish: Teenage girls' junk food diet leaves them starved of vitamins

This "research" appears to have been funded by commercial "health food" purveyors and the "Complete Nutrition" website is a hard sell operation for every health fad under the sun. I can also find no details of the alleged research anywhere. There is a list of Ms Ruxton's publications here but the one described below is not included.

A typical teenager probably thinks nothing of a diet packed with pizza, sweets and sugary drinks. But by that age what they eat is already taking a severe toll on their health, research shows.

Millions of teenagers are dangerously low in key vitamins and minerals, experts have warned – with girls faring worst.

An appetite for junk food is feeding a ‘ticking timebomb’ of disease and ill health, researchers have concluded.

They found teenagers of both sexes were among the biggest guzzlers of salt, alcohol and sugar-laden soft drinks. At the same time, they shun fruit, vegetables and oily fish. Almost half of teenage girls are dangerously low in iron, magnesium and selenium. Iron, found in red meat, liver, beans, nuts and green leafy vegetables, is vital for the production of healthy red blood cells and helps keeps memory and attention sharp. Magnesium, from shellfish, whole grains and nuts, helps keep bones strong, while selenium keeps the immune system healthy.

One in ten girls is dangerously low in calcium, putting them at risk of brittle bones and falls and fractures in old age. And one in six is severely short of iodine, a mineral key to brain development in the womb.

Teenage boys are also a concern, with one in ten lacking in zinc, which is key to the production of sperm, the healing of wounds and the recovery of muscles after exercise.

The researchers believe teenagers’ diets are particularly bad because they are starting to feed themselves for the first time, often skip meals and many are starting to experiment with cigarettes, which cut appetite. In addition, many girls will be on spurious diets which advise cutting out certain foods to keep them slim or their skin glowing.

Carrie Ruxton, an independent nutritionist, and Emma Derbyshire, a nutritionist at Manchester Metropolitan University, crunched together the results of 38 studies into diets and their consequences for health.

Dr Ruxton said: ‘While things like heart disease and cancer affect people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, the very early stages happen several decades before. ‘It may be boring thinking about your health when you are 14, 15, or 16, but it is really important to lay down the balanced diet you are going to follow of the rest of your life.’

They conclude in the journal Complete Nutrition: ‘The diet quality of teenagers and young adults is fundamentally important. During this life-phase, dietary requirements may be high due to rapid physical and mental development. ‘Unfortunately, this is often hampered by social factors, body image concerns and the fact that many young people “live for the minute”, being unaware of how current diets can affect later health.

‘To many young people, middle age and the risk of chronic disease impacting on their life may seem far off. But the foundations of conditions such as cardiovascular disease are laid in childhood.’

The analysis was funded by the Health Supplements Information Service.


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