Effects of salt substitutes on clinical outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Heart. 2022 Sep 26;108(20):1608-1615. doi: 10.1136/heartjnl-2022-321332.


Objectives: The Salt Substitute and Stroke Study (SSaSS) recently reported blood pressure-mediated benefits of a potassium-enriched salt substitute on cardiovascular outcomes and death. This study assessed the effects of salt substitutes on a breadth of outcomes to quantify the consistency of the findings and understand the likely generalisability of the SSaSS results.

Methods: We searched PubMed, Embase and the Cochrane Library up to 31 August 2021. Parallel group, step-wedge or cluster randomised controlled trials reporting the effect of salt substitute on blood pressure or clinical outcomes were included. Meta-analyses and metaregressions were used to define the consistency of findings across trials, geographies and patient groups.

Results: There were 21 trials and 31 949 participants included, with 19 reporting effects on blood pressure and 5 reporting effects on clinical outcomes. Overall reduction of systolic blood pressure (SBP) was -4.61 mm Hg (95% CI -6.07 to -3.14) and of diastolic blood pressure (DBP) was -1.61 mm Hg (95% CI -2.42 to -0.79). Reductions in blood pressure appeared to be consistent across geographical regions and population subgroups defined by age, sex, history of hypertension, body mass index, baseline blood pressure, baseline 24-hour urinary sodium and baseline 24-hour urinary potassium (all p homogeneity >0.05). Metaregression showed that each 10% lower proportion of sodium choloride in the salt substitute was associated with a -1.53 mm Hg (95% CI -3.02 to -0.03, p=0.045) greater reduction in SBP and a -0.95 mm Hg (95% CI -1.78 to -0.12, p=0.025) greater reduction in DBP. There were clear protective effects of salt substitute on total mortality (risk ratio (RR) 0.89, 95% CI 0.85 to 0.94), cardiovascular mortality (RR 0.87, 95% CI 0. 81 to 0.94) and cardiovascular events (RR 0.89, 95% CI 0.85 to 0.94).

Conclusions: The beneficial effects of salt substitutes on blood pressure across geographies and populations were consistent. Blood pressure-mediated protective effects on clinical outcomes are likely to be generalisable across population subgroups and to countries worldwide.

Trial registration number: CRD42020161077.

Keywords: hypertension; meta-analysis; stroke.