A recent study has claimed that sodium intake exceeding the 1,500 mg per day recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA) was “associated with an increased risk of stroke independent of vascular risk factors.” Hannah Gardener, et al., “Dietary Sodium and Risk of Stroke in the Northern Manhattan Study,” Stroke, April 2012. Researchers evidently relied on data from 2,657 Northern Manhattan Study participants, of whom only 12 percent met the AHA-recommended levels for sodium. In particular, the 21 percent of subjects who consumed more than 4,000 mg sodium daily based on self-reported food surveys had an increased risk of stroke compared with those who consumed less than 1500 mg. Although the study authors also identified “a 17 percent relative increase in the hazard of stroke for every 500-mg/day increase in dietary sodium intake,” their findings did not suggest “a linear dose-response relationship between sodium consumption and stroke risk.”  

“Our study provides excellent evidence for a strong relationship between excess sodium intake and increased stroke risk in a multiethnic population,” wrote the authors. “The new AHA strategic dietary goals for 2020, which include sodium reduction to ≤1500 mg/day, will promote ideal cardiovascular and brain health. Our findings underscore the need for public health initiatives to reduce the sodium level in the food supply.”  

Meanwhile, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has written an April 24, 2012, letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, calling on the agency to “implement strong regulations that would substantially cut sodium levels—and save tens of thousands of lives annually—in processed and restaurant foods.” Citing a study co-authored by CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the letter argues that the sodium content of fast food items varies widely “from one country to another” and that U.S. franchises have plenty of leeway to reduce sodium levels to match their overseas counterparts. “There is virtually nothing else the FDA could do to improve America’s food supply that would provide a greater benefit to public health than to reduce sodium levels,” concludes the letter, which notes that the Institute of Medicine recommended mandatory sodium limits two years ago. “We urge the FDA to issue strong rules that will protect Americans’ health.” See CSPI Press Release, April 24, 2012.