Is Salt Bad For You?

by Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc

Reading the medical journals today I was pleased to see that scientists are still contesting the view that salt is bad for us.

I have, over the years, noticed that science in general seems to attract a good deal of dogmatism, and the ‘salt deniers’ have for years been as dogmatic as anyone.

Back in the early 1980s I wrote a book in which I questioned the then popular argument that salt was a ‘bad’ food and a cause of much illness.

I didn’t say salt was safe to eat, I didn’t say it was a ‘good’ thing to eat, but I did say that the evidence wasn’t clear. You would have thought I’d claimed that Dr Mengele was a good egg. Indeed, Mengele himself probably got a friendlier reception than I received at the hands of medical journalists who had enthusiastically accepted the notion that salt is a major killer.

The proponents of the ‘salt is deadly’ theory included an ex Radio Times journalist who had reinvented himself as a good expert, and I remember being subjected to a vitriolic and opinionated attack when I invited him onto a television programme I was presenting. (The Radio Times is a television and radio listing magazine which does not, as far as I am aware, train its journalists in medical science.)

Thirty years ago, the Radio Times man simply could not accept that the issue might be more complex than he understood and, even among scientists, a controversial one. In his mind everyone should be told to beware of salt. He had read the views of one group of scientists and he accepted what they had to say.

Today, however, the issue about salt is still not clear.

There are a number of articles in the medical journals claiming that salt is dangerous. And there are a roughly equal number of articles arguing that salt is not dangerous.

According to a recent paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine ‘We can reduce dietary sodium, save money, and save lives.’ Dogmatic. Firm. No uncertainty there.

But according to an even more recent paper in the British Medical Journal: ‘It is surprising that many countries have uncritically adopted sodium reduction, which probably is the largest delusion in the history of preventive medicine.’

My former Radio Times sparring partner might like to know that there is clear evidence, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that reducing salt too much is associated with a higher risk of heart problems and that other small health problem known as death.

And, he might be surprised to know that, according to the National Academy of Medicine in the USA, nobody has proved that salt has any impact on health.

None of this will stop the health fascists (and former Radio Times journalists) who have got it into their heads that salt must be banned.

I don’t mind people being dogmatic about health issues (or anything else) when the facts support their point of view.

But the facts do not support the view that salt is dangerous.

Taken from The Return of the Disgruntled Man by Vernon Coleman (the fourth volume in Vernon Coleman’s bestselling series of diaries). The book is available as an ebook on Amazon.

Copyright Vernon Coleman May 2016