Effects of low salt diet on blood pressure, hormones and lipids in people with normal blood pressure and in people with elevated blood pressure

We are commonly advised to cut down on salt. The previous version of this review looked at mostly short-term strategies to reduce salt intake. In the present updated version separate analyses of studies with a duration of 2 to 4 weeks or longer were performed. Low salt diets reduced systolic blood pressure by 1% in white people with normal blood pressure and by 3.5% in white people with elevated blood pressure. The effect was similar in trials of 4 weeks or longer. There were increases in some hormones and lipids which could be harmful if persistent over time. However, the studies were not designed to measure long-term health effects. Therefore we do not know if low salt diets improve or worsen health outcomes.
Most of the people who took part in the studies were whites, but in the small number of non-whites the blood pressure reduction was, if anything, greater. More research on reduced salt intake is required, particularly in non-white populations.

Authors' conclusions: 

Sodium reduction resulted in a 1% decrease in blood pressure in normotensives, a 3.5% decrease in hypertensives, a significant increase in plasma renin, plasma aldosterone, plasma adrenaline and plasma noradrenaline, a 2.5% increase in cholesterol, and a 7% increase in triglyceride. In general, these effects were stable in studies lasting for 2 weeks or more.

Read the full abstract...

In spite of more than 100 years of investigations the question of reduced sodium intake as a health prophylaxis initiative is still unsolved.


To estimate the effects of low sodium versus high sodium intake on systolic and diastolic blood pressure (SBP and DBP), plasma or serum levels of renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides.

Search strategy: 

PUBMED, EMBASE and Cochrane Central and reference lists of relevant articles were searched from 1950 to July 2011.

Selection criteria: 

Studies randomizing persons to low sodium and high sodium diets were included if they evaluated at least one of the above outcome parameters.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently collected data, which were analysed with Review Manager 5.1.

Main results: 

A total of 167 studies were included in this 2011 update.

The effect of sodium reduction in normotensive Caucasians was SBP -1.27 mmHg (95% CI: -1.88, -0.66; p=0.0001), DBP -0.05 mmHg (95% CI: -0.51, 0.42; p=0.85). The effect of sodium reduction in normotensive Blacks was SBP -4.02 mmHg (95% CI:-7.37, -0.68; p=0.002), DBP -2.01 mmHg (95% CI:-4.37, 0.35; p=0.09). The effect of sodium reduction in normotensive Asians was SBP -1.27 mmHg (95% CI: -3.07, 0.54; p=0.17), DBP -1.68 mmHg (95% CI:-3.29, -0.06; p=0.04). The effect of sodium reduction in hypertensive Caucasians was SBP -5.48 mmHg (95% CI: -6.53, -4.43; p<0.00001), DBP -2.75 mmHg (95% CI: -3.34, -2.17; p<0.00001). The effect of sodium reduction in hypertensive Blacks was SBP -6.44 mmHg (95% CI:-8.85, -4.03; p=0.00001), DBP -2.40 mmHg (95% CI:-4.68, -0.12; p=0.04). The effect of sodium reduction in hypertensive Asians was SBP -10.21 mmHg (95% CI:-16.98, -3.44; p=0.003), DBP -2.60 mmHg (95% CI: -4.03, -1.16; p=0.0004).

In plasma or serum there was a significant increase in renin (p<0.00001), aldosterone (p<0.00001), noradrenaline (p<0.00001), adrenaline (p<0.0002), cholesterol (p<0.001) and triglyceride (p<0.0008) with low sodium intake as compared with high sodium intake. In general the results were similar in studies with a duration of at least 2 weeks.