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Dietary salt as a health hazard

The current WHO recommendation is an intake of no more than 5 g of salt per day. This level is not high enough to be a health hazard in healthy people, because in adults the kidney is capable of removing the excess salt from the bloodstream. However, it can exacerbate problems in people who have an existing blood pressure problem or kidney disorder. When a person's capacity to excrete excess sodium is overstretched, the amount that remains in the body presents a risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, renal disease, bone demineralization and stomach cancer (He and MacGregor, 2007). Many authorities also agree that long-term high salt intake in otherwise healthy individuals can be associated with the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Health conditions that may benefit from reducing salt consumption

The conditions that can benefit from reducing salt consumption include:

- Hypertension People with high to normal blood pressure who significantly reduced the amount of salt in their diet decreased their chances of developing cardiovascular disease by 25% over the following 10-15 years. Their risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease decreased by 20% He, F.J. and MacGregor, G.A., 2002.

- Left ventricular hypertrophy High salt intakes can cause enlargement of the main chamber of the heart (left ventricle), and this can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, independent of blood pressure effects.

- Renal disease Excessive salt intake, combined with an inadequate intake of water, can cause hypernatraemia, which can exacerbate renal disease.

- Osteoporosis in women (possibly).

- Gastric cancer (possibly).

The main risks associated with excessive salt consumption depend on the presence of an underlying condition in the individual, which makes them sensitive to excessive salt. For example, people with hypertension are advised to limit salt intake as a precautionary measure to limit their blood pressure. Whenever clinical hypertension is recognized, a key treatment is reduction of the patient's salt intake.

Activity 1.1

What methods can you think of that may be used to measure sodium intake? Make a note of the potential advantages and disadvantages associated with each method.

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