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March 1st, 2010
05:46 PM ET

Decrease sodium intake by 10 percent, save a million U.S. lives

By Madison Park
CNNHealth.com Writer-Producer

Reducing the U.S. population’s sodium intake by 9.5 percent could reduce nearly half a million strokes and heart attacks over the lifetime of adults, according to a new research from Stanford University.

“The purpose of the study is to look at whether small reductions in sodium intake are worthwhile,” said the study author, Dr. Crystal Smith-Spangler.  “Do they result in decreases in blood pressure, changes in death rates from heart attacks and strokes?  Is it worth enough to do?”

Smith-Spangler and fellow researchers created a model to simulate the effect of reducing sodium intake in a population of people between the ages of 40 and 85. This would result in a significant blood pressure improvement. Then, they calculated that this effect could save $32.1 billion in medical costs over the lifetime of American adults,  which would save 513,885 Americans from a potentially fatal strokes in their lifetimes, and another 480,358 from heart attacks.

“It looks like a modest decrease of 9.5 percent (in sodium) does seem to be worthwhile, in terms of cardiovascular disease,” Smith-Spangler said. The research is published in the March 2 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Sodium is a persistent health problem in the Western diet.   An average American adult consumes an estimated 3,900 milligrams of sodium per day – 75 percent comes from processed food.  The daily recommendation is 2,300 milligrams per day.

The problem with sodium has become the subject of several public health efforts.

In January, the New York City Health Department partnered with cities, states and national health organizations to cut down the salt in packaged and restaurant foods.  It has set a goal to gradually cut sodium by 25 percent over five years.  CNN.com: New York seeks national reduction of salt in food

In the United Kingdom, its food agency had started an effort in 2003 partnering with manufacturers to reduce sodium in processed foods.  This has lead to an estimated 9.5 percent decrease in sodium intake for the population.

If the United States was to emulate the U.K. model, Stanford researchers concluded that such a measure would result in “significant savings in medical costs, as well as increases in quality adjusted life years.”

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 1st, 2010
02:11 PM ET

Tiny doses of danger foods may hold allergy treatment

By Elizabeth Landau
CNNHealth.com Writer-Producer

Treating allergies with the very substance that presents life-threatening danger is “the wave of the future,” says Dr. Jeffery Adelglass, an allergist in Plano, Texas.

A number of studies presented this weekend at the meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology are riding that wave.

Here's hope for peanut allergy sufferers: The latest results from trials involving peanuts show that giving children who are allergic to them small amounts of peanuts daily results in tolerance of 15 peanuts at a time. The study, led by researchers at Duke University and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, did a randomized trial on 23 children, 15 of whom received the immunotherapy and eight took a placebo.

They also found that nine out of 12 children allergic to peanuts, who did immunotherapy for 32 to 61 months, could incorporate peanuts in their diets four weeks after stopping the therapy. Read more about this study at Health.com.

The results are promising, but the sample size is small, Adelglass noted. “I think that we’re at the beginning of a long process,” he said. He also noted that in general patients would probably have to stay on oral immunotherapy for life to ensure that an allergic person’s immune system would continue to tolerate the offending foods.

There's also good news coming from similar research in the United Kingdom, presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science. Researchers are about to begin a trial with more than 100 participants to continue investigating the technique for peanut allergies. Read more about that study here.

Here's how it works: Oral immunotherapy involves giving a person a very small dose of a food to which he or she is allergic, and gradually increasing the amount over a long period of time to build up tolerance. This should only be done under a medical professional’s supervision, and should not be tried at home. Allergists are excited about the early signs that this can work for food allergies.

This is the same principle as allergy shots, usually used for seasonal allergies to pollens. Adelglass anticipates that children will be much more compliant with the oral immunotherapy than with the shots, but again stressed that it is early in the process of treating food allergies.

Another study presented at the AAAAI meeting found similarly promising results in oral immunotherapy for egg allergy, although it also had a small sample of participants. Researchers found that 21 out of 40 egg-allergic children passed the oral food challenge, being able to eat egg without serious reaction.

While many children outgrow egg allergy, those allergic to peanuts are more likely to have lifelong problems with peanut-containing foods, allergists say.

Other research presented at AAAAI found that some foods may raise a baby's risk of developing allergies and asthma, detailed here by Health.com. On the other hand, observational studies have shown that mothers should not delay the introduction of allergens in their children.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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