Salt Study Sparks Media Frenzy and Misleads Millions Who Suffer from Hypertension
SPRINGFIELD, Ohio, – Over the last week, well-meaning, educated people including physicians and nurses have approached heart surgeon Dr. Surender R. Neravetla by email, by phone and in person about a recent, well-publicized study published in the American Journal of Hypertension indicating that we no longer have to worry about consuming salt. To the contrary, the paper indicated the need to make sure we are actually getting enough salt. This study is misleading the millions of people who suffer from high blood pressure.
The media frenzy would have you believe that this report presents new findings. It doesn't. The study simply rehashes old, faulty research. That's why in a blog post dated April 1, 2014, the American Heart Association asserted that it's not changing its guidelines. "The new study relied on flawed data and should not change the way anyone looks at sodium."
To make matters worse, the New York Times reported in a September 13, 2006 article that Michael H. Alderman—one of the study's authors and the editor in chief of the American Journal of Hypertension which published the paper—admitted to being a consultant for the salt industry (Salt Institute) for a dozen years. As recently as 2006, according to Kidney International, this salt industry hero was the keynote speaker at their annual convention.
So why has the media accorded so much attention to a flawed report co-authored and published by someone who is clearly not impartial? For starters, people like salt and they like news that tells them they can eat it. That alone helps to fuel this controversy that serves the salt industry so well. So the salt industry, which according to 2009 data sold 1.5 million tons of salt in the U.S. alone, keeps the controversy alive.
Even Today Show's Dr. Nancy Snyderman, who weighed in favorably about the study, warned that its findings didn't apply to everyone. "There is a risk group, and people in this group should really avoid their salt—African Americans because they have a higher chance of having high blood pressure, people with high blood pressure, diabetics, the obese and anyone who's had a stroke or heart disease. For those people, you really talk about lower sodium and dietary changes." She went on to further qualify her pro-salt stance by specifying that people wanting to eat salt also need good kidneys.
So let's see just how many people Dr. Snyderman was referring to:
Black Americans – More than 37 million or 12.2 percent of the U.S. population
Diabetic Americans – Almost 26 million or 8.3% of the U.S. population
Obese Americans – More than 110 million or 34.9 percent of the U.S. population
Americans suffering from cardiovascular disease: More than 83 million or 35.3 percent of the U.S. population
Americans suffering from strokes: Close to 7 million or 2.8 percent of the U.S. population
Americans suffering from chronic kidney disease: More than 20 million or 10 percent of the U.S. population
That's a lot of people. But here's the clincher. Almost 86 million Americans, or 27 percent of the population, suffer from hypertension. In addition, according to the American Heart Association, "90 percent of all American adults are expected to develop high blood pressure in their lifetime." This brings us right back to salt, since salt contributes to high blood pressure.
The effects of consuming salt are cumulative. Eat salt now and you'll pay the price later. Even so, the salt controversy won't go away. Too many corporations that profit from our salt habit have too much at stake. Despite—or because of—the overwhelming evidence against salt, lone naysayers will continue to garner media attention even when their data is flawed.
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Dr. Surender R. Neravetla, MD, FACS is the director of cardiac surgery at Springfield Regional Medical Center, Springfield, Ohio and the author of Salt Kills (Health Now Books, 2012) and Salt: Black America's Silent Killer (Health Now Books, 2013). A renowned heart surgeon who has been recognized by the Consumer Research Council as one of "America's Top Surgeons," Dr. Neravetla sees heart disease every day in his practice. Since 1983, he has performed nearly 10,000 cardiac, thoracic and vascular surgeries, and is known for his expertise in beating-heart surgery, valve repairs, and minimally invasive lung resections.