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Published on: August 25, 2011
Just a teaspoon a day ‘dulls the mind’ and increases your risk of Alzheimer’s disease
by Daniel Bates & Fiona MacRae for The Daily Mail
Too much salt could be bad for your brain as well as your heart, doctors have warned. Elderly people who have salt-rich diets and do little exercise suffer a quicker mental decline than those who are more prudent with their intake, a study has found.
Worryingly, just over a teaspoon of salt a day could dull the mind and raise the risk of Alzheimer’s, the study suggests. Salt’s danger to the heart is well known but the latest study is the first to link it to deterioration of brain health in the elderly.
The Canadian team tracked the salt consumption and levels of physical activity of 1,262 healthy men and women aged between 67 and 84 over a three-year period. They also assessed the mental health of the participants at the start of the study and once a year for the duration, using a battery of tests more commonly used to diagnose Alzheimer’s.
‘The results of our study showed that a diet high in sodium, combined with little exercise, was especially detrimental to the cognitive performance of older adults,’ said Dr Alexandra Fiocco from the University of Toronto.
‘But the good news is that sedentary older adults showed no cognitive decline over the three years that we followed them if they had low sodium intake.’ A high level was defined as more than 3,090mg of pure sodium a day – or just over a teaspoon of salt a day at 7.7g.
This is the equivalent of 15 bags of crisps, three-and-a-half Big Macs or almost two full English breakfasts.
But some of those taking part in the study were eating almost three times this, the journal Neurobiology of Aging reports.
The researchers said that knowledge of the link between salt and declining brain power could help people age healthily.
‘These findings are important because they help people know they can be proactive in retaining healthy brains as they age,’ said Carol Greenwood, a professor at the University of Toronto and another one of the authors.
‘Baby Boomers especially need to know that sitting on the couch watching television for long periods of time and eating salty snacks is not good for them.’
Deborah Barnes, a dementia expert at the University of California in San Francisco, said: ‘This is one of the first studies that looks at sodium. It’s another important point about diet. You need to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and stay away from processed foods.’
In the UK, the Food Standards Agency recommends that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt, or one teaspoon, per day.
But the average Briton’s intake is well over the limit at 8.6g.
Research suggests people who reduce salt in their diet by about 3g a day – the equivalent of six slices of bread – can reduce their chances of developing cardiovascular disease by a quarter.
Children aged one to three should eat no more than 2g per day, rising to 3g per day for four to six-year-olds and 5g for seven to tens.
A recent major review of the evidence on the dangers posed by salt created controversy by concluding that lowering consumption has little effect on health.
But other experts say that one in five strokes and heart attacks would be prevented if everyone just ate a third of a teaspoon less of salt a day.
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