Eating Less Salt May Not Lower Risk of Heart Disease

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Salt Part of a Heart-Unhealthy Diet

"If someone gets large amounts of salt in their diet, it may be an indicator of a bad diet," said Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y.

"Foods that are staples in the U.S. tend to be high in both sodium and fat. Reducing the intake of many of these foods would reduce body weight, which would have a significant effect on blood pressure and [cardiovascular disease]," said Carla Wolper, an obesity researcher at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital. "If Americans really reduced salt consumption, they would most likely also be lowering fat intake and thus caloric intake."

Experts recommend taking these findings with a grain of salt and focusing efforts on other ways to prevent cardiovascular disease, such as eating more fruits and vegetables and exercising. They do, however, suggest avoiding excessive salt consumption.

"The data are not strong enough to recommend marked sodium restriction for the entire country, but I also do not believe that these data negate the overall recommendations to at least avoid excessive salt," said Dr. Carl Lavie, medical director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Prevention at the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day for all African Americans and other adults older than 50, but some believe this is overly restrictive.

"1,500 mg/day is actually lower than the typical hospital's 'low-sodium diet' of 2,000 mg/day," Ayoob said.

"I do generally recommend lowering salt intake, but don't push it too hard, and focus more on calories and exercise," said Dr. Christopher Cannon, a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"People get treated for their blood pressure with medicine now," said Dr. Louis Aronne, clinical professor of medicine at NY-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "There are so many medicines that are effective, with so few side effects, it makes me wonder if dietary restriction is useful."

Some people, such as the approximately 1 in 4 who are not sensitive to the effects of salt as well as those who are healthy and don't have high blood pressure should focus on other methods of preventing heart disease.

"If they do not have high blood pressure that is responsive to salt and the salt helps them eat healthy foods then they should not stop," Fujioka said.

"There is a healthy amount of sodium we all need in our diet," said Dr. Stephanie Moore, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "Define [a] healthy amount of sodium -- there is the study we need."

Additional reporting by ABC News' Jane Kurtzman and Bojana Zupan.

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