Reducing your salt intake may help.
You’ve heard for years that too much salt can raise your blood pressure and is dangerous for the heart. A new study finds that salt may also be a threat to your brain. The study, published in the journal Stroke, finds that among older adults, a high-sodium diet can significantly raise the risk of stroke. “The findings are associations and don’t prove causality,” says Dr. Helen Delichatsios, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “But I don’t think the concerns about excess salt intake are overrated.”
Stroke and salt
A stroke occurs when an artery that supplies blood to the brain becomes blocked or bursts. Without blood, brain cells go without oxygen and begin to die.
In the study, people who consumed the greatest amounts of sodium were about three times as likely to suffer a stroke as those who kept within the American Heart Association recommendations of 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. While the stroke risk rose as intake started to rise above 1,500 mg, the most serious stroke risk was only established once sodium consumption reached around 4,000 mg, which is more than what most people consume in a day.
“Salt likely affects stroke risk by raising blood pressure. There are theories about other mechanisms as well, at the vascular and kidney levels. But it is not well understood,” says Dr. Delichatsios.
High salt intake can also contribute to edema, a buildup of fluids in body tissues that occurs most often in the legs, ankles, and feet.
Reducing dietary sodium can help reduce blood pressure and reduce edema. Try to limit your daily salt intake to 1,500 mg per day if you’re 51 or older, or at any age if you are African American or you have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.
Reduce salt in your diet by eating more fresh food and less salt-heavy restaurant and prepackaged foods. Read food labels to hunt for hidden sodium. Most of us are getting excessive salt from breads, pizza, pasta, cold cuts, chicken, and cheese. Track your salt intake and stop eating salt-rich food when you reach 1,500 mg each day. And finally, liven up your food with lemon or vinegar and spices such as oregano, pepper, garlic, sage, rosemary, or tarragon.
If you can’t give up your salt shaker, try salt substitutes. These are made with potassium chloride, which tastes similar to salt. “Salt-free” means the product is 100% potassium chloride. “Lite” salt replaces up to half the table salt with potassium chloride. People with diabetes or kidney disease, or who take certain blood pressure medications (potassium-sparing diuretics, ACE inhibitors, or angiotensin-receptor blockers), should discuss potassium-based salt substitutes with their doctor before using them.