Sodium Controversy Clarifications


A report by the Institute of Medicine, issued in May 2013, caused certain major news organizations to suggest that the risks of excessive sodium consumption were exaggerated. No less a media titan than the New York Times proclaimed in a headline: “No Benefit Seen in Sharp Limits on Salt in Diet.”

But before you reach for that salty snack, slow down. A group of prominent doctors has recently came forward to clarify the IOM’s findings, dispute the media spin, and firmly declare the soundness of sodium reduction.

Doctors from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene explained in the American Journal of Hypertension: “The report’s limited scope and relevance to the public, combined with the committee’s conclusion that its findings were consistent with efforts to lower sodium intake, make it difficult to understand why the report’s media coverage created a sense of controversy.”

In other words, the IOM’s report concerned a small and specific subsector of the population. In the report’s own words, “low sodium intake may lead to greater risk of adverse health effects in patients who have a diagnosis of moderate or severe congestive heart failure and are receiving certain aggressive therapeutic treatments,” as well as “those with diabetes, kidney disease, or CVD.” Furthermore, the report does not propose a salt free-for-all, either within or beyond these groups, but merely finds that studies among these subsectors is inconclusive and that further research is needed.

As the DHMM doctors stress, “The Institute of Medicine does not suggest that individuals should consume >2,300mg of sodium daily or that we should abandon efforts to lower population sodium intake at large. When highly regarded media outlets frame health messages inaccurately, as they did here, we risk losing the achievements made as a result of long-standing public health messages.”

The Centers for Disease Control also issued a response to the report. Its title speaks for itself: “Sodium Reduction is a Public Health Priority.”

While some have pointed to the IOM’s report in order to draw attention to its conclusion that more research is needed on recommended sodium levels for population subgroups, that doesn’t change the big picture when it comes to the importance of sodium reduction. As the report makes clear, “The new studies support current efforts to reduce excessive sodium intake in order to lower risk of heart disease and stroke.”

Medical language can be confusing, but it doesn’t get much more plain-spoken than that.


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