Modest reductions in dietary salt intake can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular events and significantly lower medical costs, a study found.

The study, led by Kristen Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, demonstrated that a 3-gram reduction in dietary salt by the U.S. adult population could potentially reduce the annual number of new cases of coronary heart disease by 60,000 to 120,000, stroke by 32,000 to 66,000, and myocardial infarction by 54,000 to 99,000, according to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine (2010; published online ahead of print). The annual number of deaths from any cause could be reduced by 44,000 to 92,000.

“Our findings underscore the need for an urgent call to action that will make it possible to achieve these readily attainable cardiovascular benefits,” the authors concluded.

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Decreasing salt consumption by 3 g per day would also result in an estimated $10 billion to $24 billion reduction in health care costs each year in the United States. A national regulatory effort to lower dietary salt intake “would be cost-saving even if only a modest salt reduction were achieved after a decade,” they noted.

“All segments of the population would benefit, with blacks benefiting proportionately more, women benefiting particularly from stroke reduction, older adults from reductions in CHD events, and younger adults from lower mortality rates,” the authors observed. “The cardiovascular benefits of reduced salt intake are on par with the benefits of population-wide reductions in tobacco use, obesity, and cholesterol levels.”

If the federal government sponsored a population-wide approach to decreasing salt intake, the investigators wrote, the savings Medicare expenditures “would be greater than the cost of the regulatory intervention itself, even without the incremental benefits for younger persons not covered by Medicare.”