It’s widely known that a diet high in salt leads to high blood pressure and other negative health effects, but a new study recently published in the European Heart Journal Open suggests an excessive salt diet may also lead to clogged arteries (atherosclerosis).
This makes it even more important for adults to watch their sodium intake. The findings from this long-term observation are eye-opening and further emphasize the importance of following a balanced healthy lifestyle regimen without sacrificing flavor.
Atherosclerosis may not be a well-known term, but it is a condition that impacts countless individuals worldwide. It occurs when plaque builds up on the inner walls of arteries, causing them to narrow and harden, which could lead to serious medical complications like heart attack and stroke. Plaque buildup is often a result of unhealthy lifestyle habits, like eating high-fat diets or smoking, but it can also be caused by factors outside of our control, such as genetics or age.
This new study was the first to examine the association between atherosclerosis in the heart and neck arteries and high salt intake. The analysis included 10,778 adults aged 50 to 64 years who were enrolled in the Swedish CArdioPulmonary bioImage Study (SCAPIS), the world’s largest general population study assessing coronary computed tomography angiography (CCTA). All participants in the study received CCTA to obtain 3D images of the heart arteries for two measurements. Urinary sodium was also measured to estimate salt consumption.
The coronary artery calcium score (CACS) determined the amount of calcium in the arteries. Obstructions of the heart vessels (stenosis) were classified into two groups: no stenosis, non-significant stenosis (less than 50% narrowing), and significant stenosis (more than 50% narrowing).
All participants also had an ultrasound of the carotid arteries in the neck and were divided into three groups: no plaque, plaque in one vessel, and plaque in both vessels. All results were used to determine the association between incremental increases in salt intake and atherosclerosis after adjusting for age, sex, and study site.
It was found that rising salt consumption was linked with an increase in atherosclerosis in a stepwise fashion in both the neck and heart arteries. For each 1,000 mg rise in sodium excretion, there was a 3%, 4%, and 5% higher likelihood of carotid plaque buildup, CACS, and coronary artery stenosis measurements, respectively.
Study author Dr. Jonas Wuopio said, “The results show that the more salt people eat, the higher the burden of atherosclerotic plaques in the heart and neck arteries. The increase in blood pressure due to a high salt intake seems to be an important underlying mechanism for these findings. Interestingly, the results were consistent when we restricted our analyses to participants with normal blood pressure (below 140/90 mmHg) or to those without known cardiovascular disease. This means that it’s not just patients with hypertension or heart disease who need to watch their salt intake.”
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