June 1, 2016

AHA Denying Science on Salt

I knew this would happen. The American Heart Association denies the latest science - a study published last Friday in The Lancet, which suggested that salt restriction in the diet, won't benefit most people and may actually cause harm. Although the study did also suggest that salt restriction might help the 11% of the population who have high blood pressure and consume a lot of salt, the AHA says it "strongly refutes the findings" of a "flawed study" which "you shouldn't use ... to inform yourself about how you're going to eat."

This sounds like a doubling down on their position of less salt is better philosophy. Sounds a lot like the way they have handled the low carb high fat and the statin controversies. The AHA still believes in the low fat way of eating and they have expanded the numbers of people down to children that they believe should be taking statins.

Makes me wonder about conflicts of interest and why the AHA follows paths that the crowd has abandoned. But in fact, the AHA position is really a strong blow against science and the scientific process.

The key point here is that the authors of the Lancet study make no claim that their study is definitive. Instead, they point out that the study was performed in the first place in response to earlier, less definitive studies hinting at possible harms associated with severe salt restriction.

The average American consumes about 3,400 mg per day of sodium. The AHA recommends that sodium levels be cut by more than half to 1,500 mg/day. Several other health organizations also recommend reduced salt intake, though their recommendations are less severe than the AHA's (which is itself a good indication of the lack of scientific consensus).

A former president of the AHA, Elliott Antman, described the AHA as a "a science-based organization dedicated to saving and improving lives." "Confusion about something as dangerous as excess sodium is unacceptable. We owe it to the public to provide the most scientifically sound dietary advice."

But although "confusion" about sodium may be "unacceptable", it may also be inevitable, at least for now. Despite what Antman and the AHA say, there is no widespread scientific consensus about salt. In its statements, the AHA never acknowledges the lively ongoing debate about salt.

It is known that the AHA and its officers will not admit to anything and yet say they have science behind them. There is little actual science and there is much disagreement among the experts about salt.

Back in the 1980s, the AHA developed enormously influential guidelines on cholesterol and diet. These guidelines helped spark the campaign against dietary fat and had the catastrophic consequence of pushing people to consume more carbohydrates, including sugar, instead of fat and protein. We will probably never know the full extent of the damage, but many have speculated that this may have contributed to the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Let's make sure this doesn't happen again with salt.

The AHA can't be judge and jury and simply declare themselves the winner in the court of science.

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