WASHINGTON - Consuming just half a teaspoon less salt each day may save as many as 92,000 U.S. lives and as much as $24 billion in medical costs a year, a study found.
A 3-gram daily salt reduction per person would lower annual cases of heart disease and stroke by about one-third, according to an analysis published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The authors used a computer-simulation model to estimate the change in consumption would save $10 billion to $24 billion in annual health-care costs from drugs and other treatments for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Reducing salt intake would improve health as much as quitting smoking, losing weight, and taking medications for lowering cholesterol, the researchers found.
Salt reduction lowers blood pressure, so a cutback of just 1 gram per day would have substantial benefits in about one-third of adults with high blood pressure, the study said.
"There is a common misperception that only certain people should reduce their salt intake and that for the vast majority of the population, salt reduction is unnecessary," said Lawrence Appel and Cheryl Anderson of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
"The opposite is true. For adults who reach the age of 50 years, the lifetime risk that hypertension will develop is 90 percent."
Half a teaspoon of salt equals about 1,200 milligrams of sodium, or 3 grams of salt, according to the American Heart Association's Web site.
The heart association also announced it was lowering its recommended amount of daily sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams from 2,300 milligrams.
The study was done by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, at Stanford University, and at Columbia University in New York using a computer model of coronary heart disease in U.S. residents age 35 and older.
The researchers estimated that lowering daily salt intake by 3 grams would have health benefits at least as large as reducing smoking by 50 percent or using statin drugs to treat people with a low or intermediate risk for heart disease.