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High salt, low potassium means high death risk?


Excess sodium, potassium depletion possible deadly combo

By David Liu, Ph.D. and editing by Aimee Keenan-Greene

Eating too much sodium combined with too little potassium may boost the  risk of death drastically, according to a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study led by researchers at the CDC, Emory University and Harvard University shows, Americans who ate a diet high in sodium and low in potassium were 50 percent more likely to die from any cause prematurely than those who had low intake of sodium.

Americans who ate an unhealthy diet of this type were twice as likely to die from heart attacks, the study also found.

The association was based on data from participants in the National Heath and Nutrition Examination Survey or NHANES.  Data used in the study was gathered through a participants' memory of their food consumption.

The current dietary guidelines for Americans recommends intake of less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day for people 51 or older. The recommendation is also valid for black people and those who are at risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic kidney disorders.

For other people, the dietary guidelines recommends intake of less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.  1,000 mg of sodium is equal to 2,540 mg of table salt.  This means that for most people, the U.S. government recommends 5,840 mg per day of table salt.

A Harvard University study found salt intake for Americans had not changed in the past 50 years from 1957 through 2003.  On average, Americans took 3,700 mg of sodium or 9,400 mg of table salt per day.

The study was reported in the November, 2010 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The current study led by Elena Kuklina, M.D., Ph.D at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and colleagues shows people who reduced their intake of sodium or increased their intake of potassium or do both reduced their risk for developing serious problems. 

High intake of sodium is linked with high blood pressure and high risk of heart disease as suggested by many epidemiological or observational studies.

Not all studies suggest salt is bad for an individual's health. The Salt Institute says salt is good for your health.   

One recent study led by Rod S. Tailor at Peninsula Medical School at University of Exeter in England shows cutting back on salt intake did not reduce risk of death from heart attack or stroke even though people who halved their salt intake were able to lower their blood pressure moderately.

The study was reported not long ago in The Cochrane Review.

Dr. Tailor was cited by The New York Times as saying that people would still be better off eating low salt diet.

As for potassium, the U.S. recommends intake of 4,700 mg of potassium per day.

Foods rich in potassium starting with the potassium -richest foods include tomato products, oranges, beet greens, beans, dates, milk, raisins, tomatoes, grapefruit juice, soy beans, and Lima beans to name a few, according to the food database provided by the Agriculture Research Services at USDA.