Good News for Salt Lovers

Healthnotes Newswire (August 3, 2006)—Senior men might be able to prevent heart disease and increase their life span by switching from regular table salt (sodium chloride) to a potassium-enriched salt.

High blood pressure, a common health concern among seniors, makes people more likely to have a stroke and to develop coronary artery disease, a condition that can lead to heart attack. Many studies have found a link between a high-sodium diet and high blood pressure, but some have not. Studies that look at population trends have found that in places where sodium intake is generally high, such as in Asian societies, blood pressure tends to increase with age, whereas in places where sodium intake is generally low, this trend is not seen.

A low-sodium diet has been shown to protect against high blood pressure in elderly people. A high-potassium diet has also been shown to be beneficial in reducing the incidence of high blood pressure and the risk of stroke.

Sodium occurs in small amounts in vegetables and fruits, but in this form it is balanced with high amounts of naturally occurring potassium. Most dietary sodium comes from salt that is added to processed foods in which it vastly outweighs the small amount of potassium the food might contain.

The new report comes from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In the study, the kitchen staff at ten large nursing facilities for elderly veterans in Taiwan were assigned to cook with either regular salt (99.6% sodium chloride and 0.4% other additives) or a potassium-enriched salt (49% sodium chloride, 49% potassium chloride, and 2% other additives) for about three and a half years. Although sodium intake from condiments such as soy sauce and ketchup was not limited, this was found to account for only about 30% of their dietary salt while the rest was from cooking.

The men who ate from the kitchens using potassium-enriched salt were about 40% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than the men who ate from the kitchens using regular salt. Medical costs associated with heart disease treatment were also significantly lower in those who ate food salted with potassium-enriched salt. Finally, those eating the potassium-enriched salt were less likely to die from all causes during the study, though this effect was small, and they lived longer on average than their counterparts eating regular salt.

“The present study showed a long-term effect on cardiovascular disease mortality and medical expenditure associated with lowering the sodium-to-potassium ratio,” the authors concluded. “The effect may primarily be due to the increase in potassium intake, because the sodium reduction achieved was moderate.”

Based on these findings, a potassium-enriched table salt could be considered a tool in the effort to devise a palatable diet that is lower in sodium and richer in potassium than the usual diet of many elderly men. Nevertheless, the importance of including lots of potassium-rich foods—fruits such as bananas, oranges, grapefruit, peaches, nectarines, and berries, and vegetables such as sweet potato, squash, broccoli, tomato, and leafy greens—should not be overlooked.

It should be noted that people with kidney disease should not use a potassium-enriched salt without consulting their healthcare providers.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:1289–96)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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