Study provides evidence that dietary salt intake influences the health of your heart
03/18/2019 // Michelle Simmons // Views

The body needs some salt to function, that's a given – but too much of it can be detrimental to health. One of the potential health risks of high salt intake is the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, especially high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. A recent study published in the journal Annals of Medicine adds atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, to this list. This study is the first to discover the association between dietary salt intake and the risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

For the study, a team of researchers from the University of Oulu in Finland looked at whether eating too many salty foods is a risk factor for atrial fibrillation. To do this, they followed a group of 716 middle-aged individuals for at least 19 years.

Throughout the follow-up period, 74 individuals were diagnosed with new-onset atrial fibrillation. The researchers then compared incidence rates based on estimates of people’s daily salt intake. Participants recorded their salt intake through a 7-day food diary starting at the beginning of the study.

Based on their findings, they found that there was a higher incidence of atrial fibrillation in people who consumed the most salt compared to those with the lowest consumption. Even after the researchers considered other risk factors, such as age, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and smoking, they found that salt intake affected the risk of developing atrial fibrillation. This suggests that salt consumption was independently associated with the risk of developing the condition.


The findings of the study are important as they present new ways to prevent people from developing atrial fibrillation and other cardiovascular diseases. Atrial fibrillation alone affects millions of people around the world. It is the most common heart arrhythmia condition. People with this condition are more likely to experience a stroke, and in extreme cases, it can also result in heart failure. (Related: No matter how well you eat, too much salt still causes high blood pressure, according to new study.)

"This study provides the first evidence that dietary salt may increase the risk of new-onset atrial fibrillation, adding to a growing list of dangers from excessive salt consumption on our cardiovascular health," said Tero Pääkkö of the University of Oulu, lead author of the study.

High salt intake affects more than just the heart

Eating too much salt has also been linked to other diseases, such as stomach cancer and osteoporosis. Evidence has shown that consuming more salt, sodium, or salty foods is associated with a higher risk of stomach cancer. Salt, as well as salted and salty foods, have been labeled by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research as a "probable cause of stomach cancer."

High intake of salt also increases the risk of osteoporosis. The body loses more calcium through urination with the amount of salt you consume. This is alarming because it can be leached out of the bones if there is not enough amount of calcium in the blood. This, in turn, could lead to osteoporosis. In a study in post-menopausal women, researchers found that the loss of hip bone density in the women over two years was associated with the 24-hour urinary sodium excretion at the beginning of the study and that the link to bone loss was as strong as that for calcium intake. Other studies have also shown that cutting your salt intake can lead to a positive balance in calcium, which indicates that consuming lesser amounts of salt could hamper the loss of calcium from bone that occurs with aging.

You can limit your salt intake by cooking your own food and avoiding adding salt to it, refraining from eating processed foods, eating more fresh foods, and rinsing canned vegetables under water before using.

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