Be a salt of the earth, but have less salt for your heart

Taking one simple step with your diet may slash your risk of a particular heart problem by 20 per cent, research has found.

The simple step is cutting salt from your meals, which a new study shows will likely dramatically reduce your risk of atrial fibrillation.

Of course, the word ‘simple’ could be slightly misleading here. The concept of cutting out salt is simple, but actually doing this won’t necessarily be easy for some.

Those who’ve had a lifetime of salt-laden meals might find going ‘cold turkey’ particularly hard. The benefits, however, will be well worth the effort.

Salt and atrial fibrillation – what does the research tell us?

First, let’s take a look at atrial fibrillation. Usually abbreviated to ‘AF’ or sometimes ‘Afib’, atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia in which your heart beats irregularly and often too fast.

It reduces your heart’s ability to pump blood properly, increasing the risk of a blood clot forming in your heart. Such a clot can travel up to your brain, where it can cause a stroke.

The study, conducted at Kyungpook National University Hospital (KNUH) in South Korea, was presented at last month’s European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress.

Presenting the research, lead author Dr Yoon Jung Park said: “Our study indicates that lower frequency of adding salt to foods was associated with lower risk of AF.”

Dr Park and his colleagues utilised the UK Biobank, which has a database of more than 500,000 people across the UK, with subjects aged between 40 and 70. The KNUH study excluded those who previously had AF, coronary artery disease, heart failure or stroke.

Each person was asked how often they added salt to meals, choosing one option from ‘never/rarely’, ‘sometimes’, ‘usually’ and ‘always’.

The survey tracked the health of participants over 11 years, a process that produced some compelling data. Those who never added salt lowered their AF risk by 18 per cent compared to those who always did.

Comparison of the ‘sometimes’ and ‘usually’ groups with the ‘always’ participants suggested a sliding scale of risk. People who sometimes added salt to meals were 15 per cent less likely to suffer AF. Those who answered ‘usually’ lowered the risk by 12 per cent.

Less salty = more healthy

The narrative of excessive salt intake being unhealthy is not new, but this study crystallises that narrative nicely. Perhaps the best news for those who love adding salt is that even a slight reduction likely reduces your risk.

So if making a clean break is too high a hurdle to jump, you can lower the bar. If you’re a four-shake salter, try moving down to three shakes, then two, and so on, over time.

Such a move will not only lower your risk of AF, but many other poor health outcomes, too. As well as other heart-related conditions, high salt intake raises the risk of high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease.

A lower salt level does not have to mean a lower taste and pleasure level. Garlic, herbs, spices, lemon juice and vinegar add flavour to food without the risks of salt.

Those replacement flavours might seem unfamiliar at first, but taste buds can be retrained. Alternative flavours could open up a whole new world of taste, giving your health a boost at the same time.

Do you regularly add salt to meals? Have you tried reducing your intake? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Also read: Heart can predict cognitive decline decades earlier

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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