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Salt and its impact on Health

 
15/11/2016 | By Freedom Health Insurance
NHS Choices state that sodium is needed in everyday diets, and that salt (sodium chloride) is the main source of sodium in the UK diet. It aids activity in your nerves and muscles (1). But large quantities of salt have been suggested to be linked with various health risks.

High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure refers to the amount of force at which the heart pumps blood around the body, and how much resistance there is to the flow of blood in the blood vessels (2).

Blood Pressure UK states that salt works on the kidneys to make the body retain water, this then raises the pressure of the blood and begins to put a strain on other organs such as the kidneys, arteries and heart. The arteries for example, begin to grow thicker with the strain from high blood pressure, therefore making the space inside the arteries smaller (3).

Having a high blood pressure can lead to coronary heart disease (CHD), this is the term used to describe what happens when the blood supply to the heart is either reduced or becomes blocked completely. This could potentially lead to either heart attacks and/or heart failure. The thickening of the arteries as a result of high blood pressure could in turn lead to a reduction in heart pumping and, in severe cases, it can lead to cardiovascular disease (4).

Stroke

Another potential risk that can come from the development of high blood pressure the possibility of suffering a stroke. A stroke takes place when a blood vessel within the brain becomes blocked or bursts due to high blood pressure. The blood cannot carry oxygen or energy to the brain because of the blockage or the burst and some of the cells can become damaged or may even die (5).
In 2001, the Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health stated that, in England, there were 50,000 deaths from people having a stroke, and 100,000 deaths that came from CHD (6).

Food with High Salt Quantities

NHS Choices highlight foods that are almost always high in salt due to the way that they were made. Some of the foods that have a high level of salt within them are: soy sauce, olives and fish (including prawns and anchovies). Other popular foods such as bacon, cheese, ready meals and sandwiches are also high in regards to the quantity of salt that they contain.
Whilst not necessarily being high in salt, foods such as bread and breakfast cereals can contribute a lot of salt into our diets, but this is simply because of the amount of them that we eat (7).

According to the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), the recommended maximum daily amount of salt is 6 grams, however, the UK’s average daily intake of salt is 8.1 grams (4). A useful way of calculating how much salt your food contains is to:
  • Always check the label of the product to see how much salt it contains
  • Avoid adding additional salt to anything that you are cooking, or to anything that you will be eating at the table
  • If you see a sodium content in your food, multiply this amount by 2.5 to work out the salt content within that food product (8)

Conclusion

There is a belief that an excessive amount of salt in our diets, can in some cases lead to health issues such as high blood pressure. In 2003, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) stated in their report that a public health approach to reducing salt levels is required, as an effective means of lowering the public health burden of cardiovascular disease and the risk of ill health to individuals (9).

Even though salt is considered one of the main culprits, there are other different elements that could influence the risk of developing high blood pressure, therefore further investigations into other preventative measures are required.

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References
1. NHS Choices. How Much Salt is Good for Me? Available here
2. NHS Choices. High Blood Pressure. Available here
3. Blood Pressure UK. Salt’s Effect on Your Body. Available here
4. CASH Salt and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). Available here
5. Blood Pressure UK. Stroke and high blood pressure 2010. Available here
6. DH. The Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health. Available here.
7. NHS Choices. Salt facts. Available here
8. Cash. Salt and Blood Pressure factsheet. Available here
9. SACN. Salt and Health report. Available here