Background: A key focus for dementia risk-reduction is the prevention of socio-demographic, lifestyle, and nutritional risk factors. High sodium intake is associated with hypertension and cardiovascular disease (both are linked to dementia), generating numerous recommendations for salt reduction to improve cardiovascular health.
Objective: This systematic review aimed to assess, in middle- and older-aged people, the relationship between dietary sodium intake and cognitive outcomes including cognitive function, risk of cognitive decline, or dementia.
Methods: Six databases (PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, Psych info, Web of Science, and Cochrane Library) were searched from inception to 1 March 2020. Data extraction included information on study design, population characteristics, sodium reduction strategy (trials) or assessment of dietary sodium intake (observational studies), measurement of cognitive function or dementia, and summary of main results. Risk-of-bias assessments were performed using the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) assessment tool.
Results: Fifteen studies met the inclusion criteria including one clinical trial, six cohorts, and eight cross-sectional studies. Studies reported mixed associations between sodium levels and cognition. Results from the only clinical trial showed that a lower sodium intake was associated with improved cognition over six months. In analysis restricted to only high-quality studies, three out of four studies found that higher sodium intake was associated with impaired cognitive function.
Conclusion: There is some evidence that high salt intake is associated with poor cognition. However, findings are mixed, likely due to poor methodological quality, and heterogeneous dietary, analytical, and cognitive assessment methods and design of the studies. Reduced sodium intake may be a potential target for intervention. High quality prospective studies and clinical trials are needed.
Keywords: Cognitive dysfunction; dementia; salt; sodium; systematic review.