Salt reduction 'not beneficial' during pregnancy

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Hypertension Pregnancy

Recent scientific research does not support the common assumption
that women should lower their salt intake during pregnancy to
reduce the risks for developing pre-eclampsia or oedema, according
to a recent forum.

This week's Salt and Pregnancy Workshop, which was organised by EuSalt, the European Salt Producers' Association, attempted to highlight the fact that salt is a vital element for everybody, and for pregnant women in particular.

This message was carried out throughout the contributions of three specialised lecturers, who each explained the manner in which the intake of salt affects the pregnant body.

However, other scientists remain concerned that such messages could confuse consumers.

The British Heart Foundation for example says that "there is clear evidence that salt intake is linked to high blood pressure - one of the main risk factors for heart disease."

"It remains important for people to reduce levels of salt in food preparation and at the table,"​ said BHF director general Peter Hollins.

Nonetheless, professor Bernard Spitz from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium stressed the fact that during pregnancy, a woman's body is submitted to many changes. There is an increase in weight, in blood volume, in plasma volume and in cardiac output.

Spitz claimed that there is no evidence that a reduction in salt intake has any beneficial effect in the prevention or treatment of pre-eclampsia or any other outcomes, and that the consumption of salt during pregnancy should in his opinion therefore remain a matter of personal preference.

Professor Markus G. Mohaupt from Switzerland pointed out that the intake of salt can reduce the risks of placental abruption, caesarean section, antenatal hospital admission, gestational hypertension and admission to neonatal ICU, while Sabine Kuse from Germany addressed the subject of pregnant women needing an adequate blood volume from early on during pregnancy, to ensure a proper throphoblast invasion into the tissue of the uterus.

The scientists claimed that in 70 per cent of the cases, pre-eclampsia is caused by a lack of necessary nutrients. Pregnant women need the intake of proteins, vitamins and fatty acids.

There is no need to fear salt, claimed the forum. If more sodium chloride is available than needed, there will be a higher excretion at short time. Only pregnant patients on dialysis or patients with cardiac insufficiency have to be careful about their salt intake.

There are plenty of scientists however who accept that while salt plays a vital role in human health, reducing salt intake remains an important goal for everyone. Heikki Karppanen, professor of pharmacology at the University of Helsinki told FoodNavigator earlier this week that he believed the reduction of sodium content in foods was one of the most effective tools in reducing illnesses.

"Even though I'm a medical doctor and professor of pharmacology in the medical faculty of the University of Helsinki and a strong believer in the benefits of modern drugs, we have found that appropriate food changes have been, and are, much more effective in reducing the overall burden of cardiovascular and other diseases in the population than the modern drug or other medical therapies,"​ he said.

Having studied the relationship between sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium on one hand and blood pressure and cardiovascular and other diseases on the other, he is certain that that improving the mineral levels of food can turn products into 'functional foods' or 'nutraceuticals', with remarkable beneficial effects on blood pressure.

EuSalt is the European Salt Producers' Association and represents the interests of 21 salt producers located all over Europe. It is designed to provide authoritative information to the public at large and other interested parties about salt.

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