Background: Although meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of salt reduction report a reduction in the level of blood pressure (BP), the effect of reduced dietary salt on cardiovascular disease (CVD) events remains unclear.
Methods: We searched for RCTs with follow-up of at least 6 months that compared dietary salt reduction (restricted salt dietary intervention or advice to reduce salt intake) to control/no intervention in adults, and reported mortality or CVD morbidity data. Outcomes were pooled at end of trial or longest follow-up point.
Results: Seven studies were identified: three in normotensives, two in hypertensives, one in a mixed population of normo- and hypertensives and one in heart failure. Salt reduction was associated with reductions in urinary salt excretion of between 27 and 39 mmol/24 h and reductions in systolic BP between 1 and 4 mm Hg. Relative risks (RRs) for all-cause mortality in normotensives (longest follow-up-RR: 0.90, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.58-1.40, 79 deaths) and hypertensives (longest follow-up RR 0.96, 0.83-1.11, 565 deaths) showed no strong evidence of any effect of salt reduction CVD morbidity in people with normal BP (longest follow-up: RR 0.71, 0.42-1.20, 200 events) and raised BP at baseline (end of trial: RR 0.84, 0.57-1.23, 93 events) also showed no strong evidence of benefit. Salt restriction increased the risk of all-cause mortality in those with heart failure (end of trial RR 2.59, 1.04-6.44, 21 deaths).We found no information on participant's health-related quality of life.
Conclusions: Despite collating more event data than previous systematic reviews of RCTs (665 deaths in some 6,250 participants) there is still insufficient power to exclude clinically important effects of reduced dietary salt on mortality or CVD morbidity. Our estimates of benefits from dietary salt restriction are consistent with the predicted small effects on clinical events attributable to the small BP reduction achieved.