Background: One of the controversies in preventive medicine is, whether a general reduction in sodium intake can decrease the blood pressure of a population and thereby reduce cardiovascular mortality and morbidity. In recent years the debate has been extended by studies indicating that reducing sodium intake has effects on the hormone and lipid profile.
Objectives: To estimate the effects of low sodium versus high sodium intake on systolic and diastolic blood pressure (SBP and DBP), plasma or serum levels of renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterol and triglycerides.
Search strategy: "MEDLINE" and reference lists of relevant articles were searched from 1966 through December 2001.
Selection criteria: Studies randomising persons to low sodium and high sodium diets were included if they evaluated at least one of the above outcome parameters.
Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently extracted the data, which were analysed by means of Review Manager 4.1.
Main results: In 57 trials of mainly Caucasians with normal blood pressure, low sodium intake reduced SBP by -1.27 mm Hg (CI: -1.76; -0.77)(p<0.0001) and DBP by -0.54 mm Hg (CI: -0.94; -0.14) (p = 0.009) as compared to high sodium intake. In 58 trials of mainly Caucasians with elevated blood pressure, low sodium intake reduced SBP by -4.18 mm Hg (CI: -5.08; - 3.27) (p < 0.0001) and DBP by -1.98 mm Hg (CI: -2.46; -1.32) (p < 0.0001) as compared to high sodium intake. The median duration of the intervention was 8 days in the normal blood pressure trials (range 4-1100) and 28 days in the elevated blood pressure trials (range 4-365). Multiple regression analyses showed no independent effect of duration on the effect size. In 8 trials of blacks with normal or elevated blood pressure, low sodium intake reduced SBP by -6.44 mm Hg (CI: -9.13; -3.74) (p < 0.0001) and DBP by -1.98 mm Hg (CI: -4.75; 0.78) (p = 0.16) as compared to high sodium intake. The magnitude of blood pressure reduction was also greater in a single trial in Japanese patients. There was also a significant increase in plasma or serum renin, 304% (p < 0.0001), aldosterone, 322%, (p < 0.0001), noradrenaline, 30% (p < 0.0001), cholesterol, 5.4% (p < 0.0001) and LDL cholesterol, 4.6% (p < 0.004), and a borderline increase in adrenaline, 12% (p = 0.04) and triglyceride, 5.9% (p = 0.03) with low sodium intake as compared with high sodium intake.
Reviewer's conclusions: The magnitude of the effect in Caucasians with normal blood pressure does not warrant a general recommendation to reduce sodium intake. Reduced sodium intake in Caucasians with elevated blood pressure has a useful effect to reduce blood pressure in the short-term. The results suggest that the effect of low versus high sodium intake on blood pressure was greater in Black and Asian patients than in Caucasians. However, the number of studies in black (8) and Asian patients (1) was insufficient for different recommendations. Additional long-term trials of the effect of reduced dietary sodium intake on blood pressure, metabolic variables, morbidity and mortality are required to establish whether this is a useful prophylactic or treatment strategy.