Salt: more stuff we don’t know

Gina Kolata writes about salt! So does Osagie Obasogie on Slate! There are some questions about what effect cutting back on salt will have. Here’s something I didn’t know:

Lowering salt consumption, Dr. Alderman said, has consequences beyond blood pressure. It also, for example, increases insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

My reaction upon reading this was, “How come I’ve never heard about this?” Increasing insulin resistance sounds like a reason for concern. I think most of the people who communicate health information to the general public really oversimplify things to an alarming degree. And then they’re surprised when people trust the Weston A. Price Foundation or Jenny McCarthy over them, but that’s the natural consequence if you keep information from people, even in the interest of getting them to do what you want understand what behavior is currently believed to be healthiest.

The Slate article talks about the USDA’s recent blanket recommendation that blacks reduce salt intake to 1500 mg a day, putting black people in the same category as more biologically meaningful groups such as “people who are 51 and older or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.” I was a little skeptical about this, and the analysis in this article further increases my skepticism:

…There are no widely accepted biological explanations linking social categories of race to salt sensitivity and hypertension, despite common assumptions that a yet-to-be-found gene will answer all our questions. Several traits are known to influence salt sensitivity, such as age, weight, and diet. And hypertension is similarly linked to various behaviors and demographic factors beyond the slippery category of race; several research papers have shown an inverse relationship between socioeconomic status and blood pressure. At the same time, the National Poverty Center estimates that over 25 percent of blacks are poor compared with 9.4 percent of whites. If poverty leads to hypertension—perhaps mediated by chronic stress—then there’s at least one alternate explanation for the racial disparity.

Another example of how health and the human body are more complicated than we’d like to believe, and less easily predicted by easily-visible physical traits. Read the whole article, if you can, it’s good.

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