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New salt campaign under attack


From super-fit athletes to frail pensioners – the health of many thousands of people could be at risk from following Government advice as the Food Standards Agency next week (10 October) launches a new phase in its £10 million-plus anti-salt campaign.

The warning comes from the Salt Manufacturers’ Association, which quotes scientists who say that blanket advice to cut salt consumption without first seeking medical advice could be dangerous for some large population groups.

With a string of experts across the world now questioning the suggested link between salt and high blood pressure, the SMA believes the campaign funding would be better spent on a nationwide free screening programme to identify those at risk from a range of health problems, including high blood pressure. It believes a fleet of testing units should focus in particular on areas of deprivation where health inequalities are at their greatest – a problem of particular concern to the government (see note 5 below).

The SMA says this approach should be allied to dietary advice and appropriate hypertensive treatment as recommended by the government’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence (see note 4 below).

“This is a serious issue – we should not be experimenting with the public’s health,” says Peter Sherratt of the Salt Manufacturers’ Association. “No one has yet proved that cutting salt produces any long-term health benefits for the general population yet we do know that encouraging people to exercise and eat healthily has a marked effect. The government should surely be investing our money on solutions that are known to work and on finding those who need proper medical treatment.”

Experts who have questioned the UK Government’s stance include top US nutritionist Dr David McCarron. He firmly believes that eating low fat dairy products, fruit and vegetables is the best antidote to high blood pressure and regards the current “obsession” with salt as “irrelevant”.

“No other developed nation has found the data so compelling as to invest in such a campaign,” says Dr McCarron. “The UK really has gone out on a limb.”

Those considered to be potentially at risk from following blanket advice to cut their salt intake include:


Any energetic activity that causes us to sweat also depletes the vital sodium levels in our body. Poor performance and cramps can follow, but a greater threat comes from hyponatraemia – abnormally low concentration of sodium in the blood – which can result in coma or even death.

Research by Professor Ron Maughan of Loughborough University shows that professional footballers can lose up to 20 grammes of salt in a typical day’s training. This comes at a time when the Food Standards Agency is saying our daily intake should not exceed six grammes.

“The Food Standards Agency says that the loss of salt in sweat is small and that we don’t need to increase our intake when we sweat more heavily,” says Professor Maughan. “That is demonstrably false.

“While my research concentrates on high performance athletes, it could well have relevance for anyone who exercises hard or sweats heavily during the course of their work or on holiday in a hot climate. We estimate that one in six people are salty sweaters – in other words they sweat profusely and lose a lot of sodium when they do so.”


There is a growing weight of opinion that a low-salt diet could be dangerous for older people.

Leading British physiologist, Professor Bill Keatinge, warns that elderly people need to maintain their intake of both water and salt during heatwaves, when heat-related deaths typically increase by 50 per cent. In just one week of the hot summer of 2003, over 2,000 deaths in Britain were linked to the weather.

“Heat stress causes loss of salt and water in sweat, which thickens the blood and can lead to an increased risk of heart attack and stoke,” says Professor Keatinge.


A low salt diet can cause problems with blood volume in the unborn child, which in turn can cause a rise in the mother's own blood pressure. Professor Dr. Markus Mohaupt found that those with pre-eclampsia - a condition that affects nearly ten per cent of pregnant women - could be at risk from reduced sodium intake.



Notes to editor

1 The Salt Manufacturers' Association is the trade association representing UK manufacturers of salt, including domestic salt, catering salt, water-softening salt, industrial salt and de-icing salt.

2 The SMA website has been established to bring balance to the debate over salt and health. It includes further media resources, video and sound interviews. The SMA’s case is covered in detail in the Salt Sense newsletter available from the site.

3 The independent experts quoted in this release have indicated that they are prepared to be interviewed by the media. Contact details are available from Daybreak Communications.

4 The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that drug intervention is the most effective means of treating hypertension in adults. The guidance document, produced in August 2004, can be downloaded form the NICE website:

5 The government pledged to reduce the inequality gap – measured by infant mortality and life expectancy – by 10 per cent between 1997 and 2010. Latest figures show that on both counts the gap between the poorest and population as a whole has increased. The shift means the life expectancy in the wealthiest areas is seven to eight years longer than the poorest areas.


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