In 2010, salt contributed to 2.3 million deaths from strokes, heart attacks and other cardiovascular disease globally – approximately 15% of all deaths, says a study carried out by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

The research was presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions.

As part of the 2010 Global Burden of Diseases Study, researchers analyzed the results of 247 surveys given to adults regarding their sodium intake.

Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H. and team wanted to determine wether sodium consumption had any affect on the risk of cardiovascular disease. Through a meta-analysis of 107 prospective trials they found that increasing sodium intake affects blood pressure which can be a major cause of a number of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs).

A previous study in the BMJ had confirmed that high salt intake is directly linked to a considerably greater risk for both stroke and CVD. The report suggested a population-wide reduction in salt intake to reduce the prevalence of CVDs.

Forty percent of the deaths, close to one million, were premature – among people under the age of 69. The main cause of death was heart attack (42 percent) followed closely by stroke (41 percent). Men were affected more than women (60 percent versus 40 percent).

High sodium intake is thought to have caused close to 2.3 million heart-related deaths in 2010. The majority (84 percent) of deaths due to high sodium intake occurred in low and middle-income countries.

According to Dr.Mozaffarian, “National and global public health measures, such as comprehensive sodium reduction programs, could potentially save millions of lives.”

The countries with the highest death rates related to sodium intake were:

  • Ukraine – 2,109 per million
  • Russia – 1,803 per million
  • Egypt – 836 per million

The countries with the lowest death rates related to sodium intake were:

  • Qatar – 73 per million
  • Kenya – 78 per million
  • United Arab Emirates – 134 per million

Out of the thirty largest countries, the U.S. ranked number 19th in deaths per million due to sodium intake – at 429 deaths per million.

In another study, U.S. scientists found that people with high blood pressure who reduce their salt intake greatly reduce their risk of getting CVDs and death.

The American Heart Association currently recommends consuming no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist