Live longer: Cut the salt

May 17, 2007

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By Marianne Meadahl

Reducing the average Canadian's salt intake by half would eliminate hypertension in one million Canadians and save $430 million annually in related health costs, according to a national study led by SFU health sciences professor Michel Joffres.

The study, which was published in the May 8 issue of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, has attracted media interest around the world.

"We already knew that salt increases hypertension, which is a leading factor in stroke, heart and kidney diseases," says Joffres, an epidemiologist and medical doctor. "We now have very strong evidence that decreasing salt consumption will decrease blood pressure."

Joffres conducted the study with Norm Campbell and Braden Manns of the University of Calgary and Karen Tu of the University of Toronto.

"Even though we only need 200 mg of sodium daily, Canadians consume a daily average of 3500 mgs," says Joffres. "Reducing sodium additives by 1800 milligrams a day would decrease hypertension by 30 percent and save about $400 million in medication to control high blood pressure."

Researchers base their conclusions on clinical trials data and Canadian Heart Health surveys.

Canadians' current salt intake is about 50-per-cent higher than recognized upper limits for consumption and double the amount considered adequate for a healthy diet.

Researchers estimate the direct costs of managing hypertension in Canada are about $2.33 billion annually.

Most of the salt in Canadian diets is added during food processing, and reducing the amount represents an opportunity to improve public health, the researchers say.

"As governments focus on improving the health of Canadians and reducing health care expenditures, they need to continue the dialogue with industry officials over levels of salt in food products," says Joffres.

"The food industry has already started decreasing sodium intake in their processed products and they will need continued support from government, researchers and the public to further decrease sodium content in processed foods."

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