Only 25 Percent of Americans Are Salt Sensitive: Yet We Must All Suffer


Credit: Hannamariah: Dreamstime

Yesterday, Reason 24/7 reported the new conclusion by the influential Institute of Medicine that a drastically low salt diet does not seem to improve health outcomes such as lower blood pressure and fewer deaths from heart disease. The recommendations from various medical groups, such as the American Heart Association, that Americans cut back their intake of salt rest on epidemiological findings that, by definition, ignore individual genetics and circumstances. In other words, we must all suffer bland food in order to make sure that the more sensitive among us are protected.

Good news—we who savor salt may no longer have to endure the scoldings (and regulations) of nutrition fundamentalists. Researches at the University of Virginia have developed a test that can identify the 25 percent of Americans who are salt sensitive. From the UVA press release:

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have cut through conflicting advice about salt consumption by demonstrating that each person has a "personal salt index," an upper limit on daily salt consumption for good health. In addition, they have developed a test to determine that level – and to identify people who should consume more salt.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that high blood pressure can be reduced by a low-salt diet. While nonprofit organizations such as the American Heart Association and the Institute of Medicine have a "one size fits all" recommendation on salt intake, the U.Va. research helps make clear that each individual is genetically programmed with a "personal salt index" and thus sodium chloride dietary guidelines should be personalized.

U.Va.'s Robin Felder, the senior author on a paper on the topic published recently in the journal Clinica Chimica Acta, explained: "The blood pressure of about 25 percent of the population is sensitive to salt, increasing risk for strokes, heart attacks and kidney failure. An individual's response to salt cannot be measured in a doctor's office. Therefore, we developed a simple test to help the medical community determine an individual's ability to tolerate salt, which we are calling the 'personal salt index.'"

He added, "Lowering salt intake might not be good for everyone, since about 15 percent of individuals demonstrate an increase in blood pressure on a low-salt diet – just the opposite of what one would expect." There are other potentially harmful effects of low salt intake, leading to plaques and ultimately blockages in the arteries.

This particular test isolates kidney cells shed in a person's urine and analyzes them to see what effect salt consumption has. The researchers hope that their test will become a routine part of medical care in which salt sensitive folks are identified. This is what personalized medicine is about—not treating us with one-size-fits all treatments and recommendations.

For more background on the anti-salt crusade (NYC Mayor Bloomberg included), see my colleague Jacob Sullum's excellent reporting starting here

Disclosure: I consume lots of salt daily and when it was checked last month my blood pressure was 115 over 70. That being said, if you have high blood pressure you really should get it treated.

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  1. I propose a new warning label: “May contain salt”

    1. “May contain salt, gluten, nuts, meat products, genetically modified organisms, chemicals known to the state of california to cause cancer, or scientology. Ingredients: Potatoes, canola oil, salt”

      1. May contain nuclear binding forces that, under certain circumstances, could destroy your neighborhood.

        1. “Warning: Warning label mandated by law, may contain stupid, or the obvious. Disregard warning label at your own risk!”

          1. (No, ProL, that was not meant as a dig at your label)

        2. only if broken

          1. Say, a few of the hydrogen atoms in my potato have fused into helium. Is this a problem?

            1. No, just let them float away…

              /Professional Bureaucrat

            2. rub a little salt on it, and it will be ok…also a pat of butter and some sour cream

    2. mmmm….donuts….oh sorry thought this was the sugar is evil thread,

  2. For Ron Bailey, the world begins and ends in Charlottesville. It’s all about Thomas Jefferson, liberty, UVA, climate science fraud by Michael Mann, etc. God forbid someone from outside of Albemarle County would dare to share an opinion or not attend Foxfields one year or wear something other than Wahoo orange on a Saturday during the fall, it’s like the whole cosmos should instantaneously explode.

    1. Can someone translate this into English?

      1. Deified couldn’t get laid at UVA?

        1. No, I don’t believe that. It’s easier to get laid at UVA than in France.

          1. It occurs to me that Dei and I may have had different experiences in UVA because, like in France, I didn’t speak the language. Different gets you noticed.

        2. I totally got laid. More than once, even. Without paying. So there.

          1. I can’t imagine not being able to get laid in a college town.

      2. no

    2. d: Well, you’re right about “liberty” at least.

    3. I liked Charlottesville as Virginia towns go. The girls and hotels were both clean and… ahem… service-oriented. How much more do you want?

      1. This contradicts my prior comment but we seem to have inhabited different Charlottesvilles.

        1. That’s what make for a horse race!

  3. Disclosure: I consume lots of salt daily and when it was checked last month my blood pressure was 115 over 70. That being said, if you have high blood pressure you really should get it treated.

    I had high blood pressure and had to take meds for it until I went on a low-carb/high fat diet. Turns out without the liver “re-uptaking” the salt for processing carbs, I have normal blood pressure.

    1. Low carb diets are diuretic, and that alone will lower most people’s blood pressure.

      1. I imagine that’s because of excreting the salt.

  4. Good news – we who savor salt may no longer have to endure the scoldlings (and regulations) of nutrition fundamentalists.

    Haha good one!

  5. When I was a teenager I was on some medication that required me to avoid salt for a couple of months at a time (or retain fluid and swell up like a balloon). That was probably the worst part of the entire illness; it is ridiculous how little flavor you can get with no salt in it.

  6. One good thing about Addison’s disease is that I’ve always been encouraged to eat as much salt as I want. When I spent a month in the hospital when I was fourteen, they actually gave me my own salt shaker. The hospital food was practically edible when you get to bury it in salt.

  7. Listen to Alton Brown starting at 38:33

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