Great news: Government salt intake guidelines useless, may even be dangerous

posted at 2:01 pm on May 15, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Alternate headline: Nanny state hardest hit.  After years of government warnings that Americans must lower sodium levels in their diet to avoid heart disease and strokes, a new study commissioned by the CDC finds that the 1500-mg level long championed by policymakers is not just wrong, but so low as to potentially cause health problems:

In a report that undercuts years of public health warnings, a prestigious group convened by the government says there is no good reason based on health outcomes for many Americans to drive their sodium consumption down to the very low levels recommended in national dietary guidelines.

Those levels, 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, or a little more than half a teaspoon of salt, were supposed to prevent heart attacks and strokes in people at risk, including anyone older than 50, blacks and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease — groups that make up more than half of the American population. …

But the new expert committee, commissioned by the Institute of Medicine at the behest of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there was no rationale for anyone to aim for sodium levels below 2,300 milligrams a day. The group examined new evidence that had emerged since the last such report was issued, in 2005.

“As you go below the 2,300 mark, there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms,” said Dr. Brian L. Strom, chairman of the committee and a professor of public health at the University of Pennsylvania. He explained that the possible harms included increased rates of heart attacks and an increased risk of death.

In fact, the recent data shows that even a slightly higher level than the current government recommendations might be too low:

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 more than 7,000 milligrams of sodium a day and for those consuming fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day.

There are physiological consequences of consuming little sodium, said Dr. Michael H. Alderman, a dietary sodium expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who was not a member of the committee. As sodium levels plunge, triglyceride levels increase, insulin resistance increases, and the activity of the sympathetic nervous system increases. Each of these factors can increase the risk of heart disease.

If this was just an academic exercise, it wouldn’t matter much in terms of public policy.  That’s not what happens when it comes to health-related studies.  Politicians seize on them to push intrusive regulations that hamstring consumers and businesses, and New York is one of the best examples of this.  In fact, one state assemblyman attempted to pass a salt limit for restaurant cooking two years ago that followed the example of the trans-fat ban Mike Bloomberg imposed for New York City.

Properly used, these studies would allow people to make their own choices about their health, and keep government regulation from becoming obstacles to those choices.  After all, as Woody Allen noted in Sleeper, we don’t know all of the benefits and demerits of the foods we eat now — and the recommendations might change significantly in the future (h/t Damien Bennett):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gs4b3Fm5ymI

At the time this came out, remember that the government was recommending a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet regimen for health.  At that time, eggs were supposedly the big national health threat with their high levels of cholesterol. Today? A part of a healthy diet and a source of protein and unsaturated fat.

Update: Julian Morris has more on bogus public health scares at Reason, specifically on Bloomberg’s attack on sugary drinks.

Update: Corrected  the title of the movie, which is Sleeper.  Sleepers is a much different movie.


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Take heart conditions – they can be aggravated if deprived of salt completely.

Schadenfreude on May 15, 2013 at 2:04 PM

The government has salt intake guidelines?

Next it will be limes and tequila. Where does it end?

fogw on May 15, 2013 at 2:08 PM

So… still now word about the CBO announcement regarding the massive decrease of the federal deficit?

http://www.cbo.gov/publication/44144

Ok.

Durandal on May 15, 2013 at 2:10 PM

I like salt. Salt is a friend of mine.

bloggless on May 15, 2013 at 2:10 PM

I hate the Nanny State.

petefrt on May 15, 2013 at 2:11 PM

OT – remember that Neil Young song, “Ohio?” Well, someone has updated it for Benghazi.

bloggless on May 15, 2013 at 2:11 PM

Foil hats and Big Gulps

You know those private physicians some of whom advertise on airplanes and charge thousands of dollars a month to make you take a ton of pills and shots and convince people you have a worse drug habit than Hollywood types?

Well, they tear Mayor Bloomberg up.

I would add that they are nice about Michelle Obama’s approach but that gets me in trouble.

IlikedAUH2O on May 15, 2013 at 2:13 PM

I’m from the government and I’m here to help . . . you die.

rbj on May 15, 2013 at 2:14 PM

A couple of years ago I ended up in the ER with what the paramedics thought was a heart attack. I mentioned to the cardiologist that I liked chips and most likely was eating two much salt. He laughed and said he was a beer and chip fiend and he would sometimes kill a bag of them while watching TV. He went on to say that all the stuff about salt being bad was just bogus. He called in another doctor and told him I was worried about too much salt and he laughed and said I should be worried about too little salt.

Later when I visited my doctor I told him and he knew just who the doctors were that said it. He said they were among the growing group of cardiologist that no longer believed salt was bad. He said that with the amount of chips I ate I shouldn’t be worried but, he wasn’t going to go as far and say salt was harmless because he didn’t think there was enough evidence but, was leaning towards it being harmless.

Wow, long story just to make a point about doctors knowing this for some time now.

Dr. Frank Enstine on May 15, 2013 at 2:15 PM

What was really weird is that this story comes out the same time as this story! Is it an attempt to make people that they really haven’t lowered their salt intake after all? Oh and Global Warming!!!

Cindy Munford on May 15, 2013 at 2:18 PM

news I can use. Popped open my CostCo jug o’ pretzels!

kirkill on May 15, 2013 at 2:18 PM

I’m from the government and I’m here to help . . . you die.

rbj on May 15, 2013 at 2:14 PM

! in more way than one!

kirkill on May 15, 2013 at 2:19 PM

If salt was bad then all the critters and plants that lives in the oceans would die.

TX-eye on May 15, 2013 at 2:21 PM

Americans are fat and unhealthy.

There is no list and there are no laws to compensate. How fat? So fat that the Earth will eventually wobble off its axis and roll down God’s bowling lane making pins of the skyscraper galaxies in the Oakwood Rental Universe.

sad face

Capitalist Hog on May 15, 2013 at 2:24 PM

Trillions of research dollars later, we always come back to what mom said…eat a balanced diet and get your butt outside and play. btw, does anybody know whether coffee is thumbs up or down this week?

teejk on May 15, 2013 at 2:24 PM

The Woody Allen movie was SLEEPER. SLEEPERS (with an extra ‘S’) was a memoir about boys being molested in juvenile detention and a resulting murder & coverup.

fusionaddict on May 15, 2013 at 2:26 PM

As sodium levels plunge, triglyceride levels increase, insulin resistance increases, and the activity of the sympathetic nervous system increases. Each of these factors can increase the risk of heart disease.

The epidemic in this country is Metabolic Syndrome (insulin resistance), and all the diseases it enables, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. I think this epidemic is partly caused by the government guidelines demonizing salt, fat and animal protein, while promoting empty carbs as healthy.

juliesa on May 15, 2013 at 2:30 PM

I haven’t trusted “science” for anything concerning diet. Or climate.

John the Libertarian on May 15, 2013 at 2:32 PM

btw, does anybody know whether coffee is thumbs up or down this week?

teejk on May 15, 2013 at 2:24 PM

It’s awesome, just don’t drink the decaf.

John the Libertarian on May 15, 2013 at 2:33 PM

Salt! Salt! Salt! We Parrotheads knew this all along.

VA Jacket on May 15, 2013 at 2:40 PM

Great news now can we get on to the ban on butter?

Happy Nomad on May 15, 2013 at 2:40 PM

Will salt cured bacon cure the type 2 diabetes I got following the damn guidelines? No more cereal for me bacon and eggs rule.

meci on May 15, 2013 at 2:42 PM

Wastin’ away again in NannyStateOLand,
Lookin’ for my lost intake of salt.
Some people say that there’s poor science to blame,
But I know: It’s some health tyrant’s fault.

apostic on May 15, 2013 at 2:43 PM

Second leftie today babbling about the debt decrease and using almost the exact same wording. Huh, isn’t that curious.

Bishop on May 15, 2013 at 2:44 PM

So medical “researchers” started that whole crap about salt being bad for you so that you could go to the doctors and hospitals more and as a result buy more medicines and hospital services putting more money in to the pockets of doctors and hospitals while raising the insurance rates which make insurance companies richer as well as create a panic about a health crisis which causes taxpayers to fund even more medical research ?
Hmmmmm….

burrata on May 15, 2013 at 2:48 PM

Properly used, these studies would allow people to make their own choices about their health…

Pshaw! People need me to make those choices for them! ~Mayor Bloomhead.

Dexter_Alarius on May 15, 2013 at 2:50 PM

Ok.

Durandal on May 15, 2013 at 2:10 PM

.
Too soon. It’s a preliminary figure, subject to revision based on reality.

ExpressoBold on May 15, 2013 at 2:53 PM

Great news: Government salt intake guidelines useless, may even be dangerous

There, FIFY.

NOMOBO on May 15, 2013 at 2:53 PM

Salt is an important electrolyte, and if it is not there your nerve impulses won’t happen. Period.

Just about everyone pees out extra sodium just fine…the kidneys are uniquely designed to take care of that.

Sheesh.

Bob's Kid on May 15, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Salt is probably just as bad for you as carbon dioxide is for trees. Thusly, the government needs to heavily regulate both–for our own good.

NOMOBO on May 15, 2013 at 3:05 PM

Big Salt doesn’t have lobbyists like Big Sugar, Big Corn, Big Ethanol, etc, etc.

slickwillie2001 on May 15, 2013 at 3:13 PM

still waiting for the cigarettes and bacon reversals

gerrym51 on May 15, 2013 at 3:14 PM

Hank Johnson is asking Eric Holder questions about Helium.

#FacePalm

Greetings From Guam

Resist We Much on May 15, 2013 at 3:15 PM

I question the timing…

Akzed on May 15, 2013 at 3:17 PM

Hardest hit — Science in the Public Interest.

catsandbooks on May 15, 2013 at 3:24 PM

Stossel’s been saying this for years now.

However, if bullets were chocolate, Mayor Banberg would need to ban those anyway.

Axeman on May 15, 2013 at 3:26 PM

Will Campbell’s put the salt back into their now-horrible Tomato soup? Let’s hope so!

HakerA on May 15, 2013 at 3:27 PM

Wow! Like Dude! The government is WRONG! AGAIN!

GarandFan on May 15, 2013 at 3:32 PM

Sleepers is a much different movie.

Not Woody Allen less successful sequel? Heh, go figure.

socalcon on May 15, 2013 at 3:53 PM

The old salt guidelines…

Ask Mary Katherine if this wasn’t the first shot in the War on Bacon !

socalcon on May 15, 2013 at 3:56 PM

Americans are fat and unhealthy.

There is no list and there are no laws to compensate. How fat? So fat that the Earth will eventually wobble off its axis and roll down God’s bowling lane making pins of the skyscraper galaxies in the Oakwood Rental Universe.

sad face

Capitalist Hog on May 15, 2013 at 2:24 PM

Some Americans are fat & unhealthy. Like some Africans. Like some French people. Like some Libyans. Like some Canadians. Like some Samoans. Like some Puerto Ricans. Like some Mexicans.
Etc… eleventy!!!!!
But notice the key word you left out : some.
Having known many of your comments, my gut instinct is to tear into your a$$.
But perhaps I’ll just give you the benefit of the doubt this time.
Bcs your ignorance is showing & I only wish to help you.

Badger40 on May 15, 2013 at 4:19 PM

Salt is also important for the iodine, to prevent thyroid problems.

PattyJ on May 15, 2013 at 4:41 PM

So fat that the Earth will eventually wobble off its axis and roll down God’s bowling lane making pins of the skyscraper galaxies in the Oakwood Rental Universe.

sad face

Capitalist Hog on May 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Almost like Guam will tip over and capsize.

Oh! Never mind.

psrch on May 15, 2013 at 5:02 PM

Is the jury still out on whether or not oatmeal reduces cholesterol?

Lets see…..its 2013..not an “even” year, so oatmeal has no effect on cholesterol.

BobMbx on May 15, 2013 at 5:03 PM

Greetings From Guam

Resist We Much on May 15, 2013 at 3:15 PM

I think its a photoshop…heehee. The shadows are all wrong and the fish would be falling out of the water.

BobMbx on May 15, 2013 at 5:05 PM

Precisely what foods you eat, as long as eating is kept within moderation, makes incredibly little difference compared to exercise and genetics.

Look, if you eat 6 donuts every day, or drink a quart of soda every day, or down a large french fries every day, you’ll get fat.

But if you eat an otherwise balanced diet (salads included), but have a slice of cake here, a side of bacon there, a three-egg omelette there, a couple slices of pizza there, and make room in your schedule for an hour a day at the gym, you really have nothing to fear if your genetics are OK.

solatic on May 15, 2013 at 5:27 PM

Health guidelines can only be set by the individual. Every person on earth has different requirements and one size does not fit all!
Listen to YOUR body.
When you are thirsty drink water (unless you are allergic or are in kidney failure).
If you are allergic to tree nuts, then, almonds are not “healthy” for you.

“We cannot educate a public, we can only the individual.” CW

kregg on May 15, 2013 at 5:56 PM

Should read: “We cannot educate a public, we can only educate the individual.” CW

kregg on May 15, 2013 at 5:58 PM

Bloomberg and all the leftists ought to be restricted from ever having any salt, at all. Let them whither away and cease to pervert society, trying to drag us all back to the stone age (where their third world, muslim born and raised, Indonesian Imbecile with the 84 IQ and mathematical sophistication of a slow 8th grader came from).

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on May 15, 2013 at 6:47 PM

While we’re cracking jokes at the government’s expense we should also aim a few barbs at doctors and medical types who parrot the ‘salt is always bad’ line, many of them no doubt following government edict more than they follow medical research.

jangle12 on July 11, 2013 at 4:28 PM