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Dietary salt intake linked to gastric cancer risk

3 commentsBy Nathan Gray , 06-Feb-2012
Last updated on 06-Feb-2012 at 15:36 GMT

A new study investigating a link between high salt intake and risk of gastric cancers could add to increasing pressure for industry-wide sodium reduction, researchers have said.

The study – a meta-analysis of previous research published in Clinical Nutrition – investigated the relationship between habitual dietary salt intake and the risk of gastric cancer using data from nearly 270000 people. Using data from seven previous studies, the researchers reported to find “a graded positive association between salt consumption and incidence of gastric cancer.”

“Our pooled estimates indicate that habitual ‘high’ and ‘moderately high’ salt intake are associated with 68% and 41% greater risk of gastric cancer, respectively, compared with ‘low’ salt consumption,” said the research team, led by Professor Pasquale Strazzullo, from the University of Naples Federico II.

Speaking with FoodNavigator, Professor Graham MacGregor of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, UK, and Chairman of Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) said that whilst the findings of the study are not new, what it does do is confirm “in a very well done study” that previous findings are correct.

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Professor MacGregor explains the mechanisms and implications of the new meta-analysis.

“My own view is that it’s getting to the stage where we can say that it is almost certainly causative,” said MacGregor, who added that the meta-analysis offered further evidence for the mechanisms behind salt’s effect on gastric cancer.

Salt – some but not too much

Sodium is of course a vital nutrient and is necessary for the body to function, but the average daily salt consumption in the western world, between 10 and 12 grams, vastly exceeds maximum recommendations from WHO/FAO of 5 grams per day to control blood pressure levels and reduce hypertension prevalence and related health risks in populations.

In countries like the UK, Ireland, the USA, and other industrialized countries, over 80% of salt intake comes from processed food, and people therefore do not realize they are consuming it.

Previous research has suggested that increased consumption of salted foods could increase the risk of certain cancers – including gastric cancer.

“In general, the detection of statistical associations in prospective studies provides stronger support to the possibility of a cause–effect relationship; however, in the case of excess salt intake and risk of gastric cancer the cohort studies available did not show consistent results,” explained Strazzullo and his team.

“For this reason, we carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis of these studies to evaluate the association between habitual levels of dietary salt intake and risk of gastric cancer and to obtain an estimate of risk.”

Industry action

The process of reducing salt levels in foods is an ongoing process within the industry, with many now acknowledging that high sodium levels in some foods is a major issue for the industry.

Strazzullo and his colleagues explained that population reduction in salt intake –recognised as a global priority – through many avenues, including industry reformulation, has been suggested for the prevention of cardiovascular disease both in developed and developing countries.

“Although our results do not conclusively prove a causal relationship between excess salt intake and risk of gastric cancer, they do suggest the potential for further benefit by this policy in addition to its effects on cardiovascular morbidity and mortality,” they said.

MacGregor said that the latest findings “give another angle to salt reduction,” explaining that it adds into other evidence on cancer and cardiovascular disease to show that “reducing salt intakes globally needs to be a priority.”

“I think if you talk to most people in the food industry, then they would say that so long as it’s a level playing field, and everybody has to do it together, then they don’t mind doing it,” he said.

However, as simple as taking out some salt in foods might sound, the challenges associated with reducing levels in food are intricate and have major challenges in reformulation.

Speaking to FoodNavigator previously, Dr Paul Berryman, CEO of Leatherhead Food Research, explained that reducing salt in foods is “a complex issue.”

“Salt reduction sounds easy, but it isn't!” said Berryman, adding that the effects of salt reduction on food safety and shelf life are a particular worry because of salts action as a preservative.

Source: Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2012.01.003
“Habitual salt intake and risk of gastric cancer: A meta-analysis of prospective studies”
Authors: L. D’Elia, G. Rossi, R. Ippolito, F.P. Cappuccio, P. Strazzullo

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3 comments (Comments are now closed)

Plenty of salt in all foods

There is absolutely no need to add salt to any foods. All foods in their whole and naturally occurring form contain plenty of sodium. The only time salt might be necessary is during disease states that seriously deplete electrolytes or extremely hot weather with profuse sweating.

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Posted by Paul
10 February 2012 | 14h06

stop eating processed foods

bottom line, whether it is salt or any of the chemicals they use to produce what they call "food", it's not worth it to eat it. why not play it safe and stay away from any processed food, or non-organic- don't eat anything that comes in a bag,box or can.

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Posted by susan
08 February 2012 | 22h59

No Evidence to link only Salt to Disease

"Over 80% of salt intake comes from processed foods" .... There is no way to say that salt increases the risk for gastric cancer unless the studies control for all the other chemicals/ingredients in processed foods. A high intake of processed food will most likely lead to increased health risks for various reasons, not just salt. Also, people who eat alot of processed may have more unhealthy habits that put them at risk for gastric cancer. A Meta Analysis study isn't able to control for all the variables within a diet of highly processed foods. This analysis proves nothing and any health professional who goes along with this line of reasoning isn't thinking scientifically as they were trained. Unless you have hypertension you probably don't need to be concerned with salt intake so much; especially if you eat an overall healthy diet with limited amounts of processed foods, you get regular exercise where you sweat out alot of salt, and you drink plenty of water. I believe we are wasting too much time trying to link salt to health problems when there are plenty of other known factors that we could use to prevent disease.

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Posted by Daniel Niehoff
07 February 2012 | 20h31

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