WASHINGTON – Steadily reducing sodium in the foods we buy and eat could save a half-million Americans from dying premature deaths over a decade, says a new study. And a more abrupt reduction to 2,200 milligrams per day – a 40 percent drop from current levels – could boost the tally of lives saved over 10 years to 850,000, researchers have projected.
The estimates, published Tuesday in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension, are the results of three teams working at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: researchers from the University of California, San Francisco; Harvard University’s School of Public Health; and Simon Fraser University in Canada.
Americans currently consume about 3,600 milligrams of sodium daily – roughly 40 percent above the interim goal posited by the researchers – and much of that is hidden in processed foods such as soups, cereals, bread and soups. While the link between sodium intake and high blood pressure is much debated, research strongly suggests that high-sodium diets can push blood pressure above safe limits and exacerbate high blood pressure, and that lowering sodium consumption tends to lower blood pressure.
How big an effect would the sodium reduction have? If lower-salt diets could avert 500,000 deaths in the span of a decade, it would be far more effective at reducing premature death than if the yearly number of automobile fatalities (almost 34,000) went to zero.