Is too much salt bad for us?
Around 18 million people in the UK have high blood pressure (BP) or hypertension, a symptonless yet dangerous condition. High BP means that an individual is 3 times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. It has been agreed that especially for this group of people, reducing salt consumption will help to lower blood pressure and could therefore save lives.
What about the rest of the population, those who do not have high BP or hypertension? Do they need to reduce their salt intake? Will reducing salt consumption reduce the risk of high BP? This is where the real debate starts.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) carried out a study into this area and the results were published in 2003. It concluded that 'the habitual salt intake of the population raises the risk of high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of stroke and premature death from cardiovascular diseases'. High salt intake has also been linked to osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and other health issues.
However, these claims by the FSA have been challenged by pro-salt campaigners such as the Salt Manufacturing Association who say in response to this study 'The facts simply do not support the claims being made. Nearly every major scientific study over the past 10 years has concluded that the scientific evidence opposes recommendations for salt reduction'. A survey carried out by INTERSALT of over 10,000 people in 1988 did not prove a link between high BP and salt consumption in healthy people though it did show that the more salt consumed, the more likely it was that blood pressure would increase with age.
Critics argue that it is only the people who need to watch their salt intake such as anyone with heart problems or liver or kidney disease that should reduce their salt intake and it is warned that if sectors of society such as senior citizens and pregnant women reduce their salt intake, it could actually damage their health.
Recently the FSA have relaxed its targets to reduce levels of salt in food after industry claimed that they could not be met. This has been criticised by anti-salt groups such as the Consensus Action on Salt and Health who think the FSA should stand up to industry. The FSA say that a consultation exercise is underway and it hopes to work with all sectors to reduce salt intake to 6g per day by 2010.