Harvard Heart Letter

Shake the salt habit for a longer life

Long-term study links cutting back on salt with less heart disease and longer survival.

The argument over how much salt in the diet is too much has been going on for decades. One camp says that we all need to eat less salt. The other scoffs at this tasteless idea, claiming that cutting back on salt would have little effect on public health. One thing missing from the sometimes heated debate is evidence about the long-term effects of lowering salt intake. Oodles of studies have shown that eating too much salt boosts blood pressure and getting less lowers it. But until now, there has been precious little information on what really matters: salt's effect on heart disease and survival.

That's changing, thanks to persistent work from a national team headed by researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. Their work suggests that modestly reducing salt intake can pay off in terms of fewer heart attacks, strokes, and premature deaths from cardiovascular disease. Whether this works for everyone, or just for people with blood pressures above the healthy range, remains to be determined.

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