A heart attack occurs when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. It is vital for a person to ensure their diet is heart-healthy avoiding saturated fats and processed foods. A new major landmark study has shown one of the biggest diet swaps a person can make to help significantly reduce a person’s risk of a heart attack or stroke. What is it?
A new study reports on the results of one of the largest dietary intervention studies ever conducted.
The results revealed that high levels of sodium intake and low levels of potassium intake are both linked to high blood pressure and greater risks of stroke, heart disease and premature death.
The research, which was led by The George Institute for Global Health, stressed the importance of replacing table salt with a reduced-sodium, added-potassium salt substitute to significantly reduce rates of stroke, heart attack and death.
Presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris overnight and simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the results also showed there were no harmful effects from the salt substitute.
By using a salt substitute – where part of the sodium chloride is replaced with potassium chloride – helps to significantly reduce a person’s risk of heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure.
Salt substitutes effect on lowering blood pressure has been well documented, however its effect on heart disease, stroke, and death were unclear until now.
UNSW Medicine & Health co-author, Professor Sallie Pearson from the Centre for Big Data Research in Health, said the findings clearly demonstrated the value of this simple and relatively cheap intervention on reducing cardiovascular events and premature death.
Professor Pearson said: “The trial also sets the pace in illustrating novel methods that combine traditional clinical trial data collection with linkage to routine data collections such as hospital and death records for endpoint assessment.”
Lead investigator, Professor Bruce Neal of The George Institute for Global Health, said that the scale of the benefit seen in the study could prevent millions of early deaths if salt substitutes were widely adopted.
“Almost everyone in the world eats more salt than they should,” he said.
“Switching to a salt substitute is something that everyone could do if salt substitutes were on the supermarket shelves.
” Better still, while salt substitutes are a bit more expensive than regular salt, they’re still very low-cost – just a few [pounds] a year to make the switch.
“As well as showing clear benefits for important health outcomes, our study also allays concerns about possible risks.
“We saw no indication of any harm from the added potassium in the salt substitute.
“Certainly, patients with serious kidney disease should not use salt substitutes, but they need to keep away from regular salt as well,” Prof. Neal said.
The Salt Substitute and Stroke Study enrolled 21,000 adults with either a history of stroke or poorly controlled blood pressure from 600 villages in rural areas of five provinces in China – Hebei, Liaoning, Ningxia, Shanxi and Shaanxi – between April 2014 and January 2015.
Participants in intervention villages were provided enough salt substitute to cover all household cooking and food preservation requirements – about 20g per person per day – free-of-charge. Those in the other villages continued using regular salt.
During an average follow up of almost five years, more than 3,000 people had a stroke.
For those using the salt substitute, researchers found that stroke risk was reduced by 14 percent, total cardiovascular events (strokes and heart attacks combined) by 13 percent and premature death by 12 percent.
Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said of the study results: “This research is a helpful reminder to cut the amount of salt we have in our diets and to look for other alternatives.
“However, it’s not necessarily applicable to the UK population. The group of people studied were from rural China, and so diets, lifestyle, and salt intakes are probably different.
“They also only included people with a previous history of stroke or people that were aged 60 years and older with poorly controlled high blood pressure.
“Low salt alternatives have less sodium than regular salt, so they can be useful for eating less sodium, but they won’t help you kick the habit of salty foods. It’s still better to eat less of it.
“The salt alternatives contain potassium which aren’t suitable for some people with existing health conditions, therefore it’s best to check with your doctor before using them.
“Why not try using other flavourings for your food such as herbs, spices, black pepper, chilli or lemon.”