The Salt Debate: How Harmful Can It Be?

Until recently, the advice given to diabetics about salt has always been to avoid foods laden with too much of it as it can lead to heightened blood pressure. However an article published in the New York Times in 2012 challenged this idea, citing four studies that all concluded that people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes who eat salt at the lower limit of what is considered to be a normal level of consumption are more likely to suffer from heart disease than those who eat levels of salt that are in the middle of the range of what is considered to be a normal level of consumption. This research is backed up by the findings of a study published in the Diabetes Care journal in which diabetes sufferers with the highest sodium levels in their blood were observed to have a lower risk of dying than those with low sodium levels in their blood.

Who Do We Believe?

We have always been told that high salt levels increase the risk posed by diabetes but if the research published in the New York Times and Diabetes Care is accurate then could it be that low salt levels increase the risk? In 2012, Amy Campbell of the Harvard-affiliated Joslin Diabetes Center sorted through some of the facts presented by the New York Times and stated that there are proven dangers associated with too much salt but it is possible that the results of the study presented in the paper demonstrate that there could also be dangers associated with diabetics restricting their salt intakes. She did however point out that it is difficult to dispute the fact that consuming high levels of salt can have a detrimental effect, as a plethora of different studies have linked a high intake of salt to thickening of the blood vessel walls, strokes, asthma, stomach cancer, osteoporosis, a decrease in kidney function and endothelial dysfunction. She said that studies have shown that cutting down on sodium can lower the blood pressure as well.

Results are Inconclusive

When asked whether she thought the advantages that were to be gained by lowering salt intake outweighed the dangers, particularly in the case of diabetes sufferers, Campbell stated that she could not say either way. She added that the results of a study were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2011 concluded that those who consumed lower levels of sodium possessed a higher risk of strokes and heart attacks. The research examined three thousand seven hundred European women and men aged sixty years old or younger. Campbell commented that this was a rather small sample. She also stated that the study contained some flaws relating to the measurement of sodium excretion and said that the findings would not necessarily be the same if Americans took part in a similar study, as all of the participants were thinner and younger than the average US citizen.

Raised Awareness of Sodium-Related Issues

It appears that there is research to suggest that consuming either too much or too little salt can have a negative effect on people who suffer from diabetes. Campbell says that a good thing that has come from the research published in the New York Times is the fact that it has raised awareness of issues surrounding sodium in general. She concluded her article by advising that it is important for diabetics to discuss sodium intake with their healthcare teams in order to find out what is best suited to them, as each individual is different. She said that as far as making dietary changes goes, diabetics should eat more fresh vegetables and fruits, cut back on the amount of processed fast foods that they consume and prepare healthier meals at home. It appears that the jury is still out on salt consumption, although clearly it is not advisable to either cut it out altogether or eat a huge excess of it. Perhaps one day it will be the commonly held medical opinion that consuming too low a level of salt can be just as bad for a person as consuming high levels. Until then it is best to follow the advise of medical professionals concerning this issue.

This article was written by Lily Rice.

Image Credit: Smart Photo Stock.

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