Low-salt diets may help patients with heart failure, study finds

Photo (c) Aleksandr Zubkov - Getty Images

Experts say reducing salt intake can improve overall quality of life

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Alberta explored how consumers’ salt consumption impacts their heart health

According to their findings, limiting salt intake may help reduce symptoms related to heart failure, including fatigue, swelling, coughing, and overall quality of life; however, this diet change was not linked with a lower risk of emergency room visits or mortality risk. 

“We can no longer put a blanket recommendation across all patients and say that limiting sodium intake is going to reduce your chances of either dying or being in the hospital, but I can say comfortably that it could improve people’s overall quality of life,” said researcher Justin Ezekowitz.  

Limiting salt intake

For the study, the researchers followed over 800 patients with heart failure who were receiving care in New Zealand, the United States, Chile, Canada, Mexico, and Colombia. Half of the participants received counseling that guided them through eating less salt, and the other half of the participants carried on with their diets as they normally would. The researchers tracked key health outcomes for patients with heart failure: emergency room visits, hospitalization, and mortality risk.  

Prior to any interventions, the participants consumed an average of 2,217 mg of sodium each day; guidelines recommend that consumers keep their salt intake to 1,500 mg per day. Participants who received guidance on eating more heart-healthy options reduced their salt intake to 1,658 mg of sodium per day after one year of the study. 

The researchers learned that these efforts helped reduce the severity of heart failure-related symptoms. Participants experienced less swelling, fatigue, and coughing while enjoying a better overall quality of life.

However, some of the more important measures of heart failure – ER visits, hospitalizations, and mortality – were not affected by consuming less salt. Four percent of patients eating less sodium and 4% of patients who didn’t change their diets required emergency medical care related to heart failure. Ten percent of patients in the low sodium group were hospitalized for heart failure, compared to 12% of patients who didn’t change their diets. All-cause death affected 6% of the group who ate less salt and 4% of the group with no diet change. 

While the team plans to do more work in this area moving forward, they hope these findings emphasize the benefits associated with reducing salt intake. Though this intervention may not improve major health outcomes, it can help consumers struggling with heart failure on a daily basis. 

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