The pharmaceutical industrial complex has had great influence in scientific journals, medical literature and consequently Physicians in promoting the idea that salt is a baddy. Contrary to public perception, the reason the mantra of “eat less salt” has been advocated so strongly in decades past was due to the higher risk associated with cardiovascular disease which increased profits for pharmaceutical drugs. The proof as they say is in the pudding.
Even a recent report commissioned by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated that salt is no longer considered a substantial health hazard. What the CDC study reported explicitly is that there is no benefit, and may be a danger, from reducing our salt intake below 1 tsp per day.
After analysing data from almost 13,000 patients with high blood pressure, followed up over 35 years, the researchers found that low levels of chloride was associated with a higher risk of death and cardiovascular disease.
The group with the lowest level of chloride in their blood had a 20% higher mortality rate compared to the other subjects. The results are published in the journal Hypertension.
What has this demonization of salt accomplished? High blood pressure medications thought necessary due to high salt intake may very well be caused by low salt intake. This has caused blood pressure medications in the last 30 years alone to skyrocket. In combination, Lisinopril and Norvasc make up a whopping 23% of the top prescribed medications in the world. This makes them the most prescribed generic medications (if combined) for cardiovascular disease and blood pressure.
The consequence for taking these medication is cancer, blood disorders, development of breasts in men, impotence, depression, tachycardia, enlargement of gums, inflammation of the liver, elevated blood glucose, hepatitis, and life threatening skin conditions. In order words, more clietele for Big Pharma.
A review by the National Academies Institute of Medicine (IOM), commissioned by CDC, considered dozens of studies, from cross-cultural (less reliable) to prospective, randomized with control (most reliable). Most studies showed no relationship between salt intake and any health outcome. Some seemed to indicate that more salt had a beneficial effect.
One 2008 study the committee examined, for example, randomly assigned 232 Italian patients with aggressively treated moderate to severe congestive heart failure to consume either 2,760 or 1,840 milligrams of sodium a day, but otherwise to consume the same diet. Those consuming the lower level of sodium had more than three times the number of hospital readmissions — 30 as compared with 9 in the higher-salt group — and more than twice as many deaths — 15 as compared with 6 in the higher-salt group. Another study, published in 2011, followed 28,800 subjects with high blood pressure ages 55 and older for 4.7 years and analyzed their sodium consumption by urinalysis. The researchers reported that the risks of heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure and death from heart disease increased significantly for those consuming consuming fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day.
To translate this last study into teaspoons: the finding was that anything between 1-1/2 and 3 tsp of salt per day is just fine, and there were adverse effects from eating more than that or less than that. Most Americans who are not consciously restricting salt fall in this range (1-1/2 to 3 tsp). People who are on low-salt diets for medical reasons are getting as little as 1/2 tsp, and they’re well into the range where dearth of salt is harming them. The worst impact of low salt is on insulin sensitivity. Loss of insulin sensitivity is a big risk factor for all the diseases of old age.
Salt is the most common and readily available nonmetallic mineral in the world. So how could a mineral which we’ve bathed in and absorbed in all foods since our existence be so harmful for the human body? Two words. It isn’t. Actually, the opposite is true. A low salt diet will actually increase your risk of death.
Dr Sandosh Padmanabhan of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, said: “Sodium is cast as the villain for the central role it plays in increasing the risk of high blood pressure, with chloride little more than a silent extra in the background.
“However, our study has put the spotlight on this under-studied chemical to reveal an association between low levels of chloride serum in the blood and a higher mortality rate, and surprisingly this is in the opposite direction to the risks associated with high sodium.
“It is likely that chloride plays an important part in the physiology of the body and we need to investigate this further.”
Chloride is already measured as part of routine clinical screening and so monitoring of chloride levels could easily be incorporated into clinical practice to identify individuals at high risk.
Dr Padmanabhan added: “The results we see from this study are confounding against the knowledge that excess salt is a bad thing, yet higher levels of chloride in the blood seems to be an independent factor that is associated with lower mortality and cardiovascular risk. We seem to have entered a grey area here that requires further investigation.
There’s Good Salt and Bad Salt…Know The Difference!
Table salt is recrystallized where a brine solution is treated with chemicals that precipitate most magnesium and trace minerals. During the drying process, an anti-caking compound is added to the brine and these agents often use sodium ferrocyanide, tricalcium phosphate, calcium or magnesium carbonates, fatty acid salts (acid salts), magnesium oxide, silicon dioxide, calcium silicate, sodium aluminosilicate, and calcium aluminosilicate. The ferrocyanide and aluminosilicate compounds give the most cause for concern. And the iodization of salt, especially as it is used in processed food, poses real problems for those who are sensitive to iodine.
The problem is not salt, it’s the type of salt we use. It takes just half an hour for one meal high in table salt to significantly impair the arteries’ ability to pump blood around the body, alarming research has shown. Blood flow becomes temporarily more restricted between 30 minutes and an hour after the food has been consumed.
Many experts argue that good salt could be just what we need for healing, health and longevity. Modern salt, they agree, is unhealthy. But common table salt has almost nothing in common with traditional salt, say the salt connoisseurs. Just look at the rose-coloured crystals of Himalayan rock salt, or the grey texture of Celtic salt — both pride themselves on traditional harvesting, avoiding heat treatment or refining methods — and you know you’re getting something special, not least that when you taste them, they actually have flavour. And unlike the sodium chloride you find on most kitchen tables, unrefined rock salt contains more than 84 different minerals.
“These mineral salts are identical to the elements of which our bodies have been built and were originally found in the primal ocean from where life originated,” argues Dr Barbara Hendel, researcher and co-author of Water & Salt, The Essence of Life. “We have salty tears and salty perspiration. The chemical and mineral composition of our blood and body fluids are similar to sea water. From the beginning of life, as unborn babies, we are encased in a sack of salty fluid.”
“In water, salt dissolves into mineral ions,” explains Dr Hendel. “These conduct electrical nerve impulses that drive muscle movement and thought processes. Just the simple act of drinking a glass of water requires millions of instructions that come from mineral ions. They’re also needed to balance PH levels in the body.”
Mineral salts, she says, are healthy because they give your body the variety of mineral ions needed to balance its functions, remain healthy and heal. These healing properties have long been recognised in central Europe. At Wieliczka in Poland, a hospital has been carved in a salt mountain. Asthmatics and patients with lung disease and allergies find that breathing air in the saline underground chambers helps improve symptoms in 90 per cent of cases.
Dr Hendel believes too few minerals, rather than too much salt, may be to blame for health problems. It’s a view that is echoed by other academics such as David McCarron, of Oregon Health Sciences University in the US.
He says salt has always been part of the human diet, but what has changed is the mineral content of our food. Instead of eating food high in minerals, such as nuts, fruit and vegetables, people are filling themselves up with “mineral empty” processed food and fizzy drinks.
Due to modern farming methods, fruit and vegetables are much lower in minerals than they once were. Meanwhile, table salt is stripped of all minerals save for sodium and chloride. These changes, he believes, are responsible for the current prevalence of high blood pressure.
“A lot of people say salt is bad, but bad salt is bad,” says Amanda Nelson, founder of The Natural Salt Seller. “If you put a fish in table salt solution, it will die. Good salt, on the other hand, can be wondrous.”
This attitude that studies that go against prevailing beliefs should be ignored on the basis that, well, they go against prevailing beliefs, has been the norm for the anti-salt campaign for decades. Maybe now the prevailing beliefs should be changed. The British scientist and educator Thomas Huxley, known as Darwin’s bulldog for his advocacy of evolution, may have put it best back in 1860. “My business,” he wrote, “is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations.”
Given what we know about confirmation bias, it was rather brave of the IOM to report conclusions that were at odds with medical advice of the last 50 years. Officially, the recommendation to reduce daily intake below 1 tsp has been lifted, but some of the studies cited seem to show that our bodies need more than this to avoid impaired insulin sensitivity. Now that IOM has made it respectable to take a different view of salt, we can expect a sea change in the medical establishment’s attitudes toward salt, as the force of confirmation bias has been shifted to the other side of the scale.
Dave Mihalovic is a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in vaccine research, cancer prevention and a natural approach to treatment.