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An extra teaspoon of salt a day boosts heart risk

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It increases a person’s risk of stroke by 23 per cent and their risk of developing heart disease by 17 per cent, according to a new study

Consuming an extra teaspoon a day of salt jacks up a person’s risk of stroke by 23 per cent and their risk of developing heart disease by 17 per cent, according to a new study.

This is troubling news for Canada, a country where excess salt consumption is the norm, said Kevin Willis, director of partnerships at the Canadian Stroke Network.

“This research adds to an already significant body of evidence that shows we could make major public-health gains if we were to cut sodium in the food supply,” he said.

Mr. Willis said that “legislation is the only effective way to do this because, right now, sodium is added to everything.”

The research, published in today’s edition of the British Medical Journal, was led by Pasquale Strazzullo of the University of Naples in Italy.

His team compiled the results of 13 studies, involving more than 170,000 people, that were published between 1996 and 2008. The researchers examined the direct correlation between salt consumption and heart disease and stroke, and found that more than 10,000 heart attacks and strokes could be directly attributed to excess salt consumption.

(The knock against research in the field is that while it has been amply demonstrated that consumption increases blood pressure and that high blood pressure increases cardiovascular risks, rarely is the direct link examined.)

Dr. Strazzullo and his team estimated that if people worldwide consumed no more than the recommended upper limit of five grams of salt daily (one teaspoon – or half the average consumption today), as many three million cardiovascular deaths and 250,000 stroke deaths could be averted annually. (Table salt is actually sodium chloride and 40 per cent of it, by weight, is sodium.)

“These results support the role of a substantial population reduction in salt intake for the prevention of cardiovascular disease,” he said.

Canadians consume, on average, 7.7 grams of salt daily, well above the recommend level. In Europe, where this study was published, salt intake is measured in grams.

In North America, sodium – as opposed to salt – intake is the measure of choice. Canadians consume, on average 3,092 milligrams of sodium daily, more than double the recommended amount.

Regardless of the measure used, the “projected benefits of salt reduction are substantial,” said Lawrence Appel, a professor of human nutrition at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.

He said that, if anything, the new research likely underestimates the negative impacts of salt consumption because there is “systematic under-reporting of salt intake.”

The health committee of the House of Commons is currently examining Canada’s sodium problem, in the wake of a series by The Globe and Mail that examined the serious dangers posed by the population’s excessive salt intake, including the toll it’s taking on the health of children and teens.

A federally appointed Sodium Working Group was created in 2007 but it has come under fire from medical experts and politicians for moving too slowly.

CTVglobemedia Publishing, Inc

© CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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