Staying Healthy

The trouble with excess salt

Sodium doesn't affect everyone equally, but there's good reason to stick to moderate amounts in your diet.


On average, Americans eat too much salt — more than a teaspoon and a half a day. Most often it doesn't come out of a shaker, but is hidden in the foods you eat. But is it really bad for your heart to eat too much, or is that just a concern for people with certain risk factors? There's been some debate on this topic, even among members of the scientific community. We asked Nancy Cook, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, for her thoughts on salt — or more precisely, sodium, a mineral that makes up 40% of salt — and how it affects your health and your heart.

Is salt really bad for your heart?

"There is a fairly undisputed effect of sodium on blood pressure," says Cook. The effect is stronger in people with high blood pressure (hypertension), a sustained blood pressure reading of 120/80 or higher. The data for an effect on cardiovascular disease are somewhat more controversial, she says, but in general, the bulk of research does seem to link lower sodium intake with both lower blood pressure and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »

I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.

Sign Me Up

Already a member? Login ».


As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.

No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Sign Up
Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.