[Salt and cancer]

Acta Med Croatica. 2010 May;64(2):159-61.
[Article in Croatian]


Besides cardiovascular disease, a high salt intake causes other adverse health effects, i.e., gastric and some other cancers, obesity (risk factor for many cancer sites), Meniere's disease, worsening of renal disease, triggering an asthma attack, osteoporosis, exacerbation of fluid retention, renal calculi, etc. Diets containing high amounts of food preserved by salting and pickling are associated with an increased risk of cancers of the stomach, nose and throat. Because gastric cancer is still the most common cancer in some countries (especially in Japan), its prevention is one of the most important aspects of cancer control strategy. Observations among Japanese immigrants in the U.S.A. and Brazil based on the geographic differences, the trend in cancer incidence with time, and change in the incidence patterns indicate that gastric cancer is closely associated with dietary factors such as the intake of salt and salted food. The findings of many epidemiological studies suggest that high dietary salt intake is a significant risk factor for gastric cancer and this association was found to be strong in the presence of Helicobacter (H.) pylori infection with atrophic gastritis. A high-salt intake strips the lining of the stomach and may make infection with H. pylori more likely or may exacerbate the infection. Salting, pickling and smoking are traditionally popular ways of preparing food in Japan and some parts of Asia. In addition to salt intake, cigarette smoking and low consumption of fruit and vegetables increase the risk of stomach cancer. However, it is not known whether it is specifically the salt in these foods or a combination of salt and other chemicals that can cause cancer. One study identified a mutagen in nitrite-treated Japanese salted fish, and chemical structure of this mutagen suggests that it is derived from methionine and that salt and nitrite are precursors for its formation. Working under conditions of heat stress greatly increased the workers' salt excretion through perspiration. Workers exposed to heat stress consumed as much as 13-38 g salt daily. As salt strongly enhances and promotes chemical gastric carcinogenesis and H. pylori infection in both humans and animals, there is an association between work, salt intake, and development of stomach cancer. Reducing salt intake, especially during pregnancy, also reduces the risk of developing breast cancer and many other diseases, as well as obesity. The risk of most cancers is reduced by losing weight. The geographical data and analyses currently available suggest that road salt (road salting in winter) may be associated with elevated mortality from cancer of the breast, lung, esophagus, throat, larynx, large intestine, rectum and bladder. There is no available literature on the health impacts of road salt. The cause and effect relationships cannot be established without further studies.

MeSH terms

  • Feeding Behavior
  • Food Preservatives / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary / adverse effects*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / etiology


  • Food Preservatives
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary