Using This Seasoning Can Slash Your Stroke Risk, New Study Says
Incorporating this into your diet might have major benefits for your health.
As we get older, sometimes it's hard not to worry about suffering from a daunting health risk like a stroke or heart attack. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year. They're also a leading cause of death, killing someone every four minutes. But while certain risk factors for stroke are unavoidable, like race and age, the CDC says you can take steps to help one from ever occurring. A new study has found that one prevention measure could be found in your kitchen. Read on to find out what seasoning might be able to slash your stroke risk.
Using a salt substitute could reduce your risk of having a stroke.
A study published Sept. 16 in The New England Journal found that doing something as simple as switching out your salt might lower your risk of having a stroke. The researchers for the study analyzed around 21,000 high risk adults from rural villages in China for nearly five years, giving half of them a salt substitute and telling the other half to continue using regular salt. The adults either had a history of stroke or were 60 years old or older and had high blood pressure, making them high risk for stroke. According to the study, the use of the salt substitute led to a lower rate of stroke than the use of regular salt among these adults with heightened risk.
"This study provides clear evidence about an intervention that could be taken up very quickly at very low cost," Bruce Neal, MD, the study's principal investigator, said in a statement. "The trial result is particularly exciting because salt substitution is one of the few practical ways of achieving changes in the salt people eat."
The researchers specifically looked at potassium-based salt substitutes.
The researchers for the study used a salt substitute that was 75 percent sodium chloride and 25 percent potassium chloride by mass. According to Harvard Health, diets that are high in sodium but low in potassium are often known to raise blood pressure, as well as increase the risk of stroke and early death.
"Salt is being decreased and potassium is being increased, which is also beneficial in lowering blood pressure—so it's doubly effective," Darwin Labarthe, MD, a co-author of the study and a professor of Preventive Medicine in the Division of Epidemiology at Northwestern University, explained to Northwestern Medicine.
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But this might be harder for people in the U.S. to implement.
The researchers were able to conduct this study in China because processed food is not generally used in these rural villages. Most salt-intake is the result of what has been added during food preparation within each household, Julie R. Ingelfinger, MD, a pediatrician who was not involved in the study, explained in an accompanying editorial.
"In contrast, in much of the world, commercial food preservation adds much sodium chloride to the diet, and the use of salt substitutes would not fully account for the majority of salt intake," Ingelfinger wrote. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 70 percent of dietary sodium comes from packaged and prepared foods, not from table salt added to food when cooking or eating.
Due to this, Labarthe said that Western countries like the U.S. must rely on food manufacturers to consider public health implications of something like using salt substitutes. "The evidence suggests that if food manufactures used salt substitutes in processed foods, that could have a substantial health benefit," he said. "Cardiovascular disease is itself a major pandemic, one that's been with us for a century, and salt substitutes could have a huge impact."
Previous research has indicated that even a small amount of salt can increase your stroke risk.
Your body needs some sodium to be able to work properly, but most people in the U.S. eat too much, which the FDA says can be harmful. The recommended daily amount for sodium intake is less than 2,300 milligrams, which is equal to just one teaspoon of table salt. Yet people in the U.S. on average eat about 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, which is around one and a half teaspoons.
According to a 2011 study presented at the American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference (ISC), as little as two teaspoons of salt a day could raise your risk of stroke. The study, which looked at more than 2,600 people, found that those who consumed around 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day were over two times more likely to have a stroke than those whose intake was less than 1,500 milligrams a day, which is the "ideal limit" each day for most adults, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
"It looks like even small changes in salt intake can make a difference in stroke risk," Steven Greenberg, MD, PhD, vice chair of the ISC meeting committee and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, said when the 2011 study came out, per WebMD.