Michel Joffres

Step away from the salt shaker. Health sciences professor Michel Joffres holds one-tenth of a teaspoon (200 mg) of salt. He says this is our daily sodium requirement under normal circumstances.

Study targets critical need for salt reduction

June 26, 2008

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By Marianne Meadahl

Reducing our daily salt intake by approximately two-thirds could result in as many as 17,000 fewer strokes, heart attacks and heart failures annually and dramatically improve the health of Canadians.

That’s one of the key findings of a study co-authored by SFU health sciences professor Michel Joffres and published in the June 11 issue of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.

Joffres and fellow researcher Norm Campbell with the University of Calgary’s Libin Cardiovascular Institute say "a government priority should be to develop policies and, if required, regulations on sodium additives to food by the food manufacturing and retail industry."

The researchers found that reducing dietary sodium intake from the current Canadian daily average of around 3,500 mg (1 1/2 teaspoons) to an optimum 1,200 - 1,500 mg (half a teaspoon) could result in 8,300 to 17,000 fewer people suffering strokes, heart failure and heart attacks each year.

Humans need only 200 mg of sodium daily under normal circumstances, or less than one-tenth of a teaspoon. Dietary salt, or sodium chloride, is approximately 40 per cent sodium by weight.

The authors estimate that major strokes would drop by 10-20 per cent while heart failures would decline by 10-25 per cent and heart attacks would decrease by three to seven per cent.

"An aging population, coupled with poor dietary habits, sedentary behaviour and increasing obesity rates, suggest that the prevalence of hypertension may increase substantially unless preventative measures are taken," says Joffres, who is also a physician.

Most of the sodium in Canadian diets is added during processing by the food industry. Reducing sodium added to food in processing represents an opportunity to improve public health, the researchers say.

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

Joffres has spent the past 15 years researching issues related to blood pressure. In spring 2007, he led a national study which found that reducing Canadians’ salt intake by half would eliminate hypertension in one million Canadians and save $430 million in related health costs.
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