What are the health impacts of salt?

Victorians are eating more than 15,000 tonnes of salt each year, putting themselves at risk of high blood pressure, which accounts for about half of all strokes, heart disease and chronic disease deaths.

Six times more Victorians are dying as a result of high salt intake than on our roads. If the salt intake could be reduced by 30 per cent, 800 Victorian lives could be saved each year as well as $50 million in healthcare costs.

What does excess salt do to your body?

Blood pressure and heart disease

Excess salt intake makes your body hold on to more water because it disrupts the natural sodium balance in the body. This extra stored water raises blood pressure and puts strain on your kidneys, arteries, heart and brain.

Blood pressure is the pressure of blood in the arteries as the heart pumps it around the body. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) puts increased pressure on the blood vessels, damaging and weakening them over time.

The heart also has to work harder to pump blood and this extra work can damage the heart, increasing the risk of heart attack or heart failure.

High blood pressure can lead to serious health problems, and is often called the ‘silent killer’, because there are no symptoms or signs of high blood pressure – you can have high blood pressure and still feel well.

The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is by having it checked regularly by a health professional.

High blood pressure affects one in four Victorians and accounts for half of all strokes, heart disease and chronic kidney disease deaths.

Other salt-related diseases

In addition to the damage high blood pressure does to blood vessels, it can also reduce the blood flow to organs receiving blood like the kidneys and the brain.

Your body removes unwanted fluid by filtering your blood through your kidneys. Eating too much salt reduces the ability of the kidneys to remove the extra water. The result is a higher blood pressure and extra strain on the delicate blood vessels leading to the kidneys, potentially causing kidney damage and disease. Left untreated it can lead to kidney failure.

High blood pressure caused by eating too much salt can damage the arteries leading to the brain.

Over time the damage may become so severe that arteries burst or become completely clogged. The part of the brain affected by the damaged artery will no longer receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs and dies, resulting in a stroke.

Excess salt consumption has also been associated with osteoporosis (a condition causing fragile bones), stomach cancer, kidney stones and obesity.

It can also cause physical discomfort with water retention causing bloating and swelling.

Kids and salt

Almost three quarters of Victorian school children eat more salt than what is recommended.

It’s well known that excess salt causes high blood pressure in adults, but there is now evidence that it also affects blood pressure in children, which can lead to strokes and heart disease in the future.

Dietary habits learned in childhood can be carried on into adult life. Liking salty foods is a learned taste preference. So, if a child is exposed to a high salt diet earlier in life, they’re more likely to consume excess salt as adults.

Reducing the salt intake of children will help to achieve generational change and significantly reduce the number of deaths caused by chronic heart and kidney disease in the future.