The whole salt scare came a while back when they discovered that salt raises blood pressure. The problem was, this study was done to people with low blood pressure to being with. Since salt is an important mineral, it helped normalize (raise) the blood pressure of people on the lower end.
The study was then used to make the assumption that since salt raises blood pressure to normal ranges in those with low blood pressure, too much salt gives you HIGH blood pressure. That’s kind of ridiculous to assume without testing, but they made that assumption and ran with it.
It would be the lesser of two evils to restrict salt anyway, just in case, right? Think again………
Salt isn’t the Root of all Evil, the Lack of it is
I’ll start with the hardcore stuff. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows people on low-salt had higher rates of stroke, heart attack and death. (3)
Another study done the same year confirmed that not only was lower sodium excretion associated with higher cardiovascular disease deaths, but baseline sodium excretion did not predict hypertension. (4)
Another great study in the American Journal of Hypertension found that people on low-salt diets developed higher levels of renin, cholesterol, and triglycerides in their blood. (5) The authors concluded that the slight reduction in blood pressure was overshadowed by these other crappy side effects, and that sodium restriction may have huge negative effects on the population.
Athletes Watch Out!
Restricting salt is also a huge problem for athletes. (8) Recent studies have shown that endurance athletes commonly develop low blood sodium, or hyponatremia, even in the absence of cognitive symptoms. Studies of endurance events have reported the incidence of hyponatremia to be up to 29%. (9, 10, 11, 12) The majority of these sodium deficient athletes are usually mildly symptoms like nausea and lethargy. It is extremely important that athletes replace the salt lost through sweat.
The Elder at Risk
Salt restriction may be especially dangerous for the elderly. Elderly people with hyponatremia have more falls and broken hips and a decrease in brain function. (14, 15) Hyponatremia is a common finding in the elderly, with an especially high prevalence in those with acute illness. (16)
The risks and health consequences behind this universal salt restriction far outweigh the trivial benefits.
For more in-depth information on salt and the current misleading guidelines, I recommend Gary Taubes article for Science Magazine on the subject. Also, make sure to check out Chris Kresser’s article on Healthy Salt Recommendations as well.