From raising our blood pressure to putting us at risk of a stroke, we’re all too aware of the health hazards associated with eating too much salt.

However, a new US study has found that, for the over 70s at least, salt may not pose as much of a threat as we think.

Dr Andreas Kalogeropoulos and his colleagues at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, studied 2,642 adults aged 71 to 80 to look at the link between salt intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and heart failure.

Each participant’s dietary sodium intake was assessed at the beginning of the study using a questionnaire.

Among the 881 study participants who died during the 10-year period, those who had said they consumed less than 1,500 mg of sodium daily had a mortality rate of 34%, compared with a surprisingly lower 30% death rate among those who consumed between 1,500 and 2,300 mg of sodium.

In the US, the recommended sodium intake for adults aged 50 or over is less than 1,500 mg/day. That equals around 3.75g of salt.

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In the UK, official NHS guidelines currently recommend no more than 6g of salt a day per adult. But with the average daily intake far surpassing this at 8.6g, a drive to lower the maximum to 5g a day by 2025 is well under way.

Furthermore, 29% of those who reported a daily sodium intake of less than 1,500 mg had developed CVD by the end of the 10-year period.

Those taking in between 1,500 mg and 2,300 mg of sodium a day had a death toll from CVD of 28%, compared to 30% among those who reported consuming more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day.

Essentially, the study failed to find a concrete link between a more sodium-heavy diet and the development of heart disease in the elderly.

However, as the research relied on participants self-reporting their salt intake, critics have warned that the findings may be misleading.

Dr Tim Chico, Reader in Cardiovascular Medicine and Consultant Cardiologist at the University of Sheffield explained that the results would be dependent on participants’ salt consumption remaining unchanged throughout the 10-year period.

“At the end of the day, most people don’t need a doctor or a scientist to tell them that an apple is almost certainly healthier than a packet of crisps,” he said.

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Prof Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, echoed these concerns, saying: “The study showed that risk of cardiovascular disease was not significantly different for people over 70 years old with a similar blood pressure but differing levels of salt intake.

“However, blood pressure can be influenced by a number of factors and the finding that people with a similar blood pressure had a similar risk of cardiovascular disease is not surprising.

“More research is therefore needed before recommending further restrictions on salt intake for older adults.

“This study does not contradict current dietary guidelines that people should consume less than 6g of salt per day.”

Perhaps we should be taking the study’s findings with a pinch of salt after all.

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