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As-salt on science in NYCOn Mond ...

Posted Jan 22 2010 12:06am

As-salt on science in NYC

On Mondaycity officials rolled out an initiative to curb the salt content in manufactured and packaged foods. But the idea behind it -- that salt intake has reached extreme levels in America -- is a mythand this "solution" wouldn't workanyway.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley aims to lead a national campaign to reduce the amount of salt in manufactured foods by 25 percent over the next five years. Cutting salt intake is supposed to reduce hypertension-related health problems. But while doctors may advise particular patients to cut down on saltthe science tells us that this is not a public-health problem.

Nutritionists at the University of California/Davis just published the first and only study to address salt intake and public policy. They found that people are naturally inclined to regulate salt intake to physiologically determined levels by unconsciously selecting foods to meet their needs -- and even the most extreme interventions don't do much.

The UC Davis study (published in the October issue of The Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology) looked at data from more than 19,000 individuals from 33 countries worldwide. It determined that daily sodium intake ranges only from 2,700 milligrams to 4,900 mgwith the worldwide average of 3,700 mg.

It also determined that the average American consumes about 3,400 mg a day -- disproving the claim spread by advocates such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest that US salt consumption is out of control.

In other wordsFarley's trying to fight a problem that doesn't exist. Worsehis new guidelines say that daily sodium intake for most people shouldn't exceed 1,500 mg -- which is a ridiculous 45 percent below the bottom of the normal consumption range the UC Davis study identifiedand a full 60 percent lower than the worldwide average.

The researchers also cite decades of research describing the specific mechanism by which the central nervous systemacting together with several organ systemscontrols our appetite for salt. One of the studies they cite involved hundreds of participants in what was to be a three-year sodium-intake interventionwith the goal of reducing daily intake to 1,850 mg.

But after six monthsresearchers noted that participants were simply unable to cut sodium intake below about 2,750 mg a day -- close to the bottom of the range the UC Davis study identified.

Another study had used intensive dietary counseling to get participants to cut daily sodium intake to an average of 1,775 mg over four weeks. After thatthe subjectswhile still receiving counselingwere randomly split into two groups -- one getting a sodium tabletthe other a placebo.

Those who got the placebo still raised their intake by nearly 1,000 mgwhile those on the sodium tablet actually cut their dietary-sodium consumption to compensate.

These people didn't know how much sodium they were getting -- they unconsciously changed their diets to match what their bodies "knew" they needed.

The UC Davis study also cites surveys showing that sodium intake in the United Kingdom has "varied minimally" over the last 25 yearsdespite a major government campaign to reduce it.

Overallthe researchers foundsalt intake "is unlikely to be malleable by public policy initiatives," and attempts to change it would "expend valuable national and personal resources against unachievable goals."

The New York guidelines are voluntary -- for now. But the city's ban on trans fats started that waytoo. And the federal Food and Drug Administration has also been looking to get in on the action -- it may classify it as a "food additive," subject to regulationsometime this year.

But this campaign isn't about public health -- it's about grandstanding on a pseudo-issue ginned up by activistswhen science clearly shows that there's neither a crisis nor a way for the government to actually alter our salt intake. All these initiatives do is win headlines for ambitious policymakers (New York's last health commissioner parlayed his trans-fat activism into a promotion to FDA chief)while making food slightly more costly and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of consumers -- literally.


Blueberries proclaimed as wonders again

No control group apparently. Probably just a placebo effect

A pint of blueberry juice a day could help reduce memory loss. Research has shown that the fruit helps sharpen recalleven after memory has started to fail. Pensioners fared up to 40 per cent better on memory tests after drinking a pint of the juice a day for just 12 weeksthe study found.

Researchers in the U.S. set a group of 16 pensioners a series of memory tests and then asked them to drink up to a pint of blueberry juice daily. When their memories were tested again three months later they showed up to a 40 per cent improvement in a word-association task. They were 33 per cent better at memorising listsand fared better overall than pensioners who drank grape juicethe studypublished in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistryfound.

The University of Cincinnati researchers attribute the improvements to compounds in the fruit called anthocyaninswhich are thought to make it easier for messages to transmit in the brain. Researcher Robert Krikorian called for more researchadding: 'Blueberries may offer an approach to forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration.'

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