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Salt and Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term referring to strokes, coronary heart disease (CHD) and heart failure.

Stroke

A stroke occurs when part of the blood flow to the brain is cut off. This causes a break in the oxygen supply, causing cells to die. Stroke is the fourth most common cause of death in England and Wales, with an estimated 100,000 strokes every year. 

Stroke has a greater disability impact compared to any other chronic disease. The outcomes of strokes are wide ranging, but sufferers can experience paralysis, speech impediment and memory problems which can be highly frustrating and difficult for both the individual and the family.  

Coronary heart disease (CHD)

CHD is the term used to describe what happens when the heart’s blood supply is reduced or blocked. Raised blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart and circulatory diseases including heart attacks and heart failure. Over time, untreated high blood pressure can lead to a thickening of the heart muscle which can reduce the effectiveness of the heart pumping action.  

CHD is one of the UK's biggest killer, with one in every seven men and one in every twelve women dying from the disease. In the UK, there is approximately one heart attack every three minutes.

Who is most at risk of cardiovascular disease?

Older people, people with high blood pressure, diabetics, people of black and South Asian descent and smokers are all at an increased risk of having a stroke or heart attack.

How does salt contribute?

Raised blood pressure is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. Importantly, the risk of CVD increases throughout the range of blood pressure, starting at 115/75 mmHg. Salt is the major factor that increases blood pressure and is therefore responsible for many strokes and heart attacks every year.

In June 2010, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published a report on the prevention of cardiovascular disease which highlighted salt reduction as the number one priority as a cardiovascular preventative measure. It also highlighted that we should be aiming for a salt intake of 6g by 2015 and 3g by 2025.

Dietary advice

It has been shown that a high salt intake, a low consumption of fruit and vegetables (which means a low potassium intake), obesity, excess alcohol intake and lack of physical exercise all contribute to the development of high blood pressure. However, the diversity and strength of the evidence is much greater for salt than for other factors. People with, or considered at risk, of stroke or heart disease should take extra care to ensure that they keep their salt intake below the recommended maximum of 6g.

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