Salt no longer off the table for older adults

By Doug Bennett • Published: May 26th, 2015
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For older adults, a little salt may not be such a big deal. A new study has found that eating some salt every day doesn’t raise the risk of heart disease among seniors.

An Emory University study published in an American Medical Association journal found that eating salt every day didn’t contribute to heart disease in older adults. The researchers followed the eating habits of more than twenty-six hundred older adults for a decade. The group had an average age of 74 and was free of heart disease when the study started.

Here’s what the researchers found: Eating between two-thirds of a teaspoon to a full teaspoon of salt a day brought no increased risk of heart disease, heart failure or death in older adults.

The death rate varied by just 1.2 percent among those who ate less than two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt a day and those who consumed more than a teaspoon, the study found.

Current dietary guidelines for people over age 51 recommend no more than two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt per day. Excess sodium in the body raises blood pressure and makes the heart work harder. It also makes the body retain fluid, which can lead to many other ailments.

Still, the researchers’ findings came with a few caveats: Older adults who have a history of heart disease or heart failure should still heed their low-salt guidelines.

Also, it’s important to note that researchers weren’t just measuring the extra dashes of salt you add at the table. It included all salt a person ingests. Some prepared foods or restaurant meals can be packed with “hidden” sodium. So people may be eating way more salt than they realize.

These findings don’t mean it’s OK to go crazy with the saltshaker. More study — including clinical trials — is needed before current salt guidelines for older adults are changed.