Lancet paper blasts Cochrane salt study

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Reducing salt intake can lead to 'a significant reduction in cardiovascular events' according to the re-analysis of the Cochrane data.
Reducing salt intake can lead to 'a significant reduction in cardiovascular events' according to the re-analysis of the Cochrane data.

Related tags Salt reduction Cardiovascular disease Myocardial infarction

Commentary in The Lancet, along with a new analysis of the data, has slammed the recent Cochrane review that claimed salt reduction had no effect on strokes or heart attacks.

The re-analysis of the same data in the Cochrane review, published in the Lancet​, finds a significant reduction in cardiovascular events, including a 20 per cent fall in the risk of stroke and heart attack from a reduction of 2 grams of salt per day.

The review, from Dr Rod Taylor and colleagues (reported by FoodNavigator here​), stated that “Cutting down on the amount of salt has no clear benefits in terms of likelihood of dying or experiencing cardiovascular disease,”​ whilst a press release sent by the Cochrane Library warned: “Cutting down on salt does not reduce your chance of dying”.

“Both of these statements are incorrect,”​ said the authors of the re-analysis.

“Contrary to the claims by Taylor and colleagues and many press headlines, these new results, along with all the other evidence, clearly demonstrate that a reduction in the whole of the UK population and worldwide, is immensely important,”​ said Professor Graham MacGregor of the Wolfson Institute, and Chairman of World Action on Salt and Health (WASH), one of the authors of the re-analysis.

“In our view, Taylor and colleagues’ Cochrane review and the accompanying press release reflect poorly on the reputation of The Cochrane Library and the authors. The press release and the paper have seriously misled the press and thereby the public,”​ said the authors.


Professor Francesco Cappuccio, head of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Nutrition at the University of Warwick said that the benefits of salt reduction are “clear and consistent.”

“The findings from the Cochrane review do not indicate that salt reduction does not reduce hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Indeed, a correct reanalysis confirms the benefits shown by previous studies,” ​said Cappuccio.

“Therefore, the publication does not change the priorities outlined … for a population reduction in salt intake to prevent heart attacks and strokes,”​ he added.

MacGregor and his colleagues added that the totality of evidence, including epidemiological studies, animal studies, randomised trials, and outcome studies, “all show the substantial benefits in reducing the average intake of salt.”

The researchers highlight that many countries have already adopted policies to reduce salt intake by persuading the food industry to reformulate food with less salt, and encouraging the population to use less salt at the table and in home cooking.

“A reduction in population salt intake will have major beneficial effects on health along with major cost savings in all countries around the world,”​ said the researchers.


MacGregor and his colleagues explained that the Cochrane review’s calls for further large, long term, randomised trials of salt reduction on clinical outcomes would be ‘impractical’.

“According to their own calculations, at least 2500 cardiovascular events need to be obtained to detect a 10 per cent reduction … This would require randomisation of about 28 000 participants to a low or high salt intake and then maintenance of the two separate diets for at least 5 years,”​ said the researchers.

“Such a trial is impractical because of logistical and financial constraints, and the ethical issues of putting a group of people on a high salt diet for so many years,”​ they added.

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) campaign director Katharine Jenner, added to the criticism, telling FoodNavigator that “there is no sense in waiting for further trials before progressing with an international salt reduction programme, which will immediately save many thousands of lives.”

Source: The Lancet
Volume 378, Issue 9789, Pages 380 - 382, doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61174-4
“Salt reduction lowers cardiovascular risk: meta-analysis of outcome trials”
Authors: F.J. He, G.A. MacGregor

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Evidence against rhetoric

Posted by science Mythbuster,

It is good to see that at least Cochrane has not been tainted by the huge lobby against salt, we have seen the anti aslt lobby CASH and their Director Prof MacGregor conduct over recent years. The quote animal studies and epedemiology studies neither of which are as conclusive as clinical trials. In the pivotal clinical trial quoted by the anti saltistas, the DASH sodium trial, the investrigators failed to control potassium levels, the main factor influencing blood pressure's relation to salt intake. They were chronically undernourished for potassium and had different potassium intakes between groups. The sooner we get government public health departments to insists on good scientific evidence for its policies thew sooner we can start tackiling the big public health problem of blood pressure, the excess weight of our society not heading down the soidum cul-de-sac.

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Lack of salt

Posted by Julie Vincent,

Due to the demonisation of salt we are now seeing patients with seriously low sodium blood levels requiring salt tablets to remain healthy.Escalation of hypertension and cardiac disease are relatively recent health issues in the last 50 years associated with the introduction of trans fats and increased sugars in the diet. Salt has been used as a preservative in our foods for hundreds of years with no ill effects.
But now with huge investments in the low salt food industry its unlikely to change direction even with the research!

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Try it for yourself

Posted by Kris Peterson,

I take 1/2 tsp- 1 tsp of sea salt, Real salt, Himalayan salt every day never Morton table salt which does have additives Dr. Stanton.
My blood pressure is low and my adrenals need feeding but otherwise I am healthy according to recent blood tests.
We are each individuals and being individuals we have requirements that vary. For a doctor to flat out tell you to reduce sodium is wrong and if nothing else they should test electrolytes to see if they are off. Some of us need salt, some of us don't. My objection to any study or doctor making blanket statements is we are not all the same and truth be told salt isn't either.

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