Heart Health

06 December 2010

Salty diet bad for heart failure patients

For heart failure patients who don't believe they really need to limit their salt intake, the results of a new study could be very educational.


For heart failure patients who don't believe they really need to limit their salt intake, the results of a new study could be very educational: patients like them who ate a high-salt diet were more likely to end up in the hospital.

"High salt intake is particularly dangerous for heart failure patients, even for those who are doing well and are stable on their medications," author Dr Gary E. Newton of Mount Sinai Hospital in Ontario said.

Study subjects who ate an average of 3.8 g of sodium per day -equivalent to nearly two teaspoons of salt, and more than twice the maximum recommended by the American Heart Association for healthy people- were twice as likely to have acute decompensated heart failure within a three-year window as people who ate fewer salty foods.

The American Heart Association recommends that healthy people eat less than 1.5 g of sodium per day. However, on average, Americans consume nearly 3.5 g per day.

In his study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,  Newton and colleagues followed 123 patients with stable heart failure.

Results of study

While nearly half of those who ingested an average of 3.8 g of salt per day were hospitalised for heart failure over a mean of roughly three years, only 12% to 15% patients on lower-salt diets - averaging between 1.4 and 2.4 g/day ended up in the hospital.

People who ate the highest amounts of salt were also three times more likely to die during the study period, the authors report.

It's difficult to establish that the excess salt is to blame, Newton said. For instance, people who ate more salt may have been less healthy overall, not getting enough exercise or sleep. "We don't have proof that it was the salt that was putting them in the hospital."

Newton tells patients they don't need to eat only bland food to avoid salt. The bulk of sodium comes from restaurants and processed foods, such as cold cuts and other processed meats, he said.

He advises patients that rather than hiding the salt shaker -which would be largely "ineffectual" - they should check the labels of every food product they buy, cook more at home, and avoid cheap restaurants.

He also encourages researchers to perform similar studies to investigate the effects of salt in patients with other chronic health problems. "Every disease state really needs its own set of recommendations," he said.

(Reuters Health, Alison McCook, December 2010) 

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