A new analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) finds that high salt consumption is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, the subjects who consumed the least salt (but who were not on special low-salt diets because of pre-existing conditions) were 80 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than the subjects who consumed the most salt. "Our findings suggest that for the general adult population, higher sodium is very unlikely to be independently associated with higher risk of death from CVD or all other causes of death," says the lead author. These results, which are consistent with earlier analyses of NHANES data, further undermine the recommendation from government health agencies that everyone should strive to reduce salt intake.
By contrast, a 2007 study found that patients who reduced their salt consumption substantially (by 25 to 35 percent) were 25 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular problems than a control group that did not cut back on salt. But these subjects all had "high-normal" blood pressure, which is consistent with the idea that salt reduction is beneficial only for a subset of the population with pre-existing risk factors. Although the weight of the evidence after decades of research supports this understanding of the relationship between salt intake and cardiovascular disease, public health officials and activists (and the doctors and journalists who parrot them) continue to insist that salt is Bad for You, no matter who you are or what your medical condition is.
I noted the Center for Science in the Public Interest's demonization of salt in my 2003 reason story about the group. Gary Taubes reviewed the long-running controversy over salt's health effects in a classic 1998 Science article.