Studies show diets high in salt may contribute to more than heart disease

High-salt diets have long been connected to high blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular problems. But new studies show salt intake may also contribute to non-heart-related diseases and that young children in the U.S. are eating too much salty processed foods.

In addition, the U.S. isn’t alone – researchers have found the vast majority of countries around the world eat considerably more than the salt intake recommended by the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association.

Autoimmune connection
Researchers who worked on three different studies have found links between salt consumption and a range of autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.

Lab experiments at the Yale University School of Medicine showed a high-salt diet can produce more inflammatory cells that attack healthy tissue in autoimmune diseases. A second study at the Broad Institute in Boston showed how genes regulate the immune response and the third one at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston focused on how genes control autoimmunity.

The three studies, published recently in the journal Nature, helped explain how salt caused enzymes to create T-cells that lead to inflammation prevalent in autoimmune diseases. The findings could pave the way for human trials showing a low-salt diet can be one treatment for autoimmune diseases.

“If I had an autoimmune disease, I would put myself on a low-salt diet now,” David Hafler, M.D., a professor of neurology and immunobiology at Yale, told Medline Plus. “It’s not a bad thing to do. But we have to do more studies to prove it.”

Salt consumption by toddlers
The concerns about salt consumption outlined in the new studies mirror research done on high-sodium packaged snacks that are aimed at very young children.

The results, presented recently at scientific sessions of the American Heart Association, showed that 75 percent of pre-packaged meals and snacks for toddlers have high salt levels. Some toddler meals had as much as 630 mg per serving, which translates into 40 percent of the 1,500 mg daily maximum recommended by the AHA.

Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which examined more than 1,100 food products intended for children between age 1 and 3, expressed concern that toddlers eating high-salt foods are more likely to eat too much salt later in life.

A balanced diet for children and adults that has moderate amounts of fat, salt and sugar are recommended by medical experts for better health. Taking dietary supplements from Dr. Newton’s Naturals, such as CalMax Kids for children age 2 and older or Super C22, an anti-inflammatory aid for adults, also contributes to a healthy diet.

World consumes too much salt
Another salt-related finding presented at the AHA scientific sessions showed that most of the world’s population is consuming almost twice the daily limit on salt, 2,000 mg, recommended by the World Health Organization. Commercially prepared foods, table salt, soy sauce and salt added during cooking are believed to average nearly 4,000 mg per day, based on 2010 figures for global salt intake.

“We hope our findings will influence national governments to develop public health interventions to lower sodium,” study author Saman Fahimi, M.D., of the Harvard University School of Public Health, told the AHA.

The range of global salt intake was from a high of about 6,000 mg per day in Kazakhstan, Mauritius and Uzbekistan to the lowest average consumption around 2,000 mg per day in Kenya and Malawi. The U.S.’s average sodium intake is about 3,600 mg per day. In all, 181 of the 187 countries reviewed by the researchers exceeded the WHO’s recommendation of 2,000 mg per day.