New preliminary European research has found that too much salt in the diet may be linked with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation (AF), also known as a heart flutter.
Carried out by scientists at University of Oulu, Finland, the new preliminary study looked at 716 men and women age 40-59 years old and followed them for over an average of 19 years to investigate if a high salt intake is a risk factor for AF.
The findings, published in the Annals of Medicine, showed that during the study 74 participants were diagnosed with the condition, and that those who consumed the highest levels of salt had a higher risk of AF compared to those with the lowest intake of salt.
Salt consumption was also independently associated with an increased risk of AF even after taking into account several other risk factors including age, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure and smoking.
Excessive salt consumption is already known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease — especially high blood pressure, myocardial infarction and stroke.
“This study provides the first evidence that dietary salt may increase the risk of new-onset atrial fibrillation, adding to a growing list of dangers from excessive salt consumption on our cardiovascular health,” said lead author Tero Pääkkö.
“With estimates suggesting that over three-quarters of salt consumed is already added in processed foods, reducing salt intake at a population level could have a hugely beneficial impact on new-onset atrial fibrillation and overall cardiovascular disease,” explains Pääkkö. “Although further confirmatory studies are needed, our results suggest that people who are at an increased risk of atrial fibrillation may benefit from restricting salt in their diet.”
AF is the most common heart rhythm disorder. The likelihood of developing the condition increases with age, with AF affecting around 7 in 100 people aged 65 or over. Symptoms include chest pain, a ‘racing’ or unusual heartbeat palpitations, weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
The condition also causes 20 to 30 percent of all strokes and increases the risk of other conditions such as dementia, heart attack and kidney disease, and premature death, therefore the finding that a high salt diet may be an avoidable risk factor could help people make a simple lifestyle change to help reduce the risk of developing AF and other cardiovascular conditions.