Looking at limits
Americans on average consume about 3,400 mg of sodium per day, according to the C.E.I. report. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all recommend adults consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
“This limit originated not from a process of scientific consultation but from government fiat, prompted by politicians, bureaucrats and industry,” the C.E.I. report said.
The Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute uses analysis, advocacy, coalition-building and litigation in its efforts to remove government-created barriers that may impede “economic freedom, innovation and prosperity.” The 54-page C.E.I. report includes 196 footnotes referring to scientific studies.
Ms. Minton, the study’s author, specializes in gambling laws, alcohol regulation, and issues related to food and public health. She received a bachelor’s of arts degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and is working toward a master’s of science degree in applied nutrition at the University of New England.
The C.E.I. report said scientific evidence is inconsistent regarding the health benefits of moderate sodium restriction for people who are not hypertensive. Other dietary factors, such as weight loss and increasing potassium intake, are as effective as sodium reduction in reducing blood pressure. Government should refocus efforts on lowering hypertension rates by recommending people lose weight and increase potassium in their diet by eating more fruits and vegetables, according to the report.
“Compared with a salt-centric approach, this strategy would have a firmer grounding in science, be less likely to cause unintended harm and may even have health benefits in addition to lowering blood pressure,” the C.E.I. report said.
Many factors, and not a single genetic or lifestyle factor, lead to people developing high blood pressure, the report said. Sodium reduction may be advisable for some but ineffective or counterproductive for others. The best way to prevent or treat hypertension is to create individual plans that account for a person’s unique genetic makeup and lifestyle, according to the C.E.I. report.
“For some people, such as older hypertensives consuming very high levels of salt, this plan might include sodium restriction,” the report said. “However, based on current evidence, sodium restriction is not effective for blood pressure reduction in the majority of people and does not impart health improvements.”
The report cited 23 observational studies up to 2012 that examined health outcomes with lower sodium. Six studies found a direct and significant association between higher sodium and poor health outcomes. Seven found an inverse association, which meant they showed higher sodium intakes associated with better health outcomes. Two studies found a J-shaped or U-shaped curve with poor outcomes associated with very low or very high sodium intake. Eight studies found no associations or mixed results.
The C.E.I. report also cited several meta-analyses published since 2012 that produced conflicting results.
Worldwide government attempts to lower population sodium intake below the recommended limit have failed over the past four decades, according to the report.