Milwaukee, Wis. A modest reduction in the mounds of salt consumed by the typical American each year could lead to 155,000 fewer heart attacks and strokes annually, according to a new analysis.
The benefit would come from reductions in blood pressure that would result from cutting about 3 grams of salt a day. The average man and woman now consume 10 grams and 7 grams a day, respectively.
That’s about 8 pounds of salt a year for a man.
While some groups such as blacks, the elderly and those with high blood pressure would benefit the most, reducing salt would lower blood pressure throughout society, said lead author Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco.
“Everybody benefits to some extent,” she said. “Everybody has slightly lower blood pressure when they reduce salt.”
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, used computer modeling to predict the health and cost benefits of cutting salt consumption by 3 grams a day.
Those benefits would come from reductions in systolic (the upper number) blood pressure ranging from two to nine points, depending on the group.
For instance, people 65 and older and those with high blood pressure would see their blood pressure drop an average of four to six points. For others, the drop would be two to four points.
The biggest improvement would be in blacks with high blood pressure, a group that would see a five- to nine-point drop.
Overall, new cases of coronary heart disease would drop by between 60,000 and 120,000, or 11 percent; strokes by between 32,000 and 66,000, or 8 percent; heart attacks by between 54,000 and 99,000, or 13 percent; and deaths by between 44,000 and 92,000, or 4 percent.
Health care costs would drop by $10 billion to $24 billion a year.
As much as 80 percent of salt in the American diet comes from prepared and processed foods.