Harvard Health Letter

Protect your brain from stroke

Reducing your salt intake may help.

You've heard for years that too much salt can raise your blood pressure and is dangerous for the heart. A new study finds that salt may also be a threat to your brain. The study, published in the journal Stroke, finds that among older adults, a high-sodium diet can significantly raise the risk of stroke. "The findings are associations and don't prove causality," says Dr. Helen Delichatsios, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "But I don't think the concerns about excess salt intake are overrated."

Stroke and salt

A stroke occurs when an artery that supplies blood to the brain becomes blocked or bursts. Without blood, brain cells go without oxygen and begin to die.

In the study, people who consumed the greatest amounts of sodium were about three times as likely to suffer a stroke as those who kept within the American Heart Association recommendations of 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. While the stroke risk rose as intake started to rise above 1,500 mg, the most serious stroke risk was only established once sodium consumption reached around 4,000 mg, which is more than what most people consume in a day.

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