A recent study suggesting that too little sodium can lead to cardiovascular disease has the American Heart Association (AHA) all fired up.

The findings, published in a May 20, 2016 article in The Lancet, compared the sodium excretions of people with hypertension and those without, and related that data to major cardiovascular disease events.

While high sodium intake was found to be associated with an increased risk of heart attacks in hypertensive people, researchers said that low sodium intake was associated with increased risk of cardiovascular events and death in others.

Their conclusion: efforts to get people to eat less salt – which have long been a public health priority – should be targeted mainly at people who have hypertension.

"Not valid"

The AHA couldn't disagree more.

“The findings in this study are not valid, and you shouldn’t use it to inform yourself about how you’re going to eat,” said Mark A. Creager, M.D., AHA president and director of the Heart and Vascular Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “The large body of science clearly shows how excessive amounts of sodium in the American diet can cause high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, stroke, and even death.”

AHA past president Daniel W. Jones, MD agrees. “This study offers no credible evidence that lower sodium intake can be harmful. And many other well-done studies support the recommendation of the association to limit daily sodium intake to 1500mg per day,” said Jones, who is Sanderson Chair in Obesity, Metabolic Diseases and Nutrition; Director, Clinical Population Science, Mississippi Center for Obesity Research. 

The AHA says the link between excessive sodium and high blood pressure – as well as higher risks of heart disease, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease – is indisputable and points out that:

A 90 percent risk

  • One-third of Americans have high blood pressure
  • 90% of all American adults will develop hypertension over their lifetime
  • Heart disease and stroke are the world’s two leading causes of death

Numerous health organizations and governmental bodies encourage limiting sodium limits for health reasons. Most Americans consume more than twice the AHA’s recommended limit of 1,500 milligrams per day.

There are people who should not lower their sodium intake: those who regularly work in extreme heat, or those with specific, but uncommon, illnesses.