A new US study has suggested an association between adding salt to foods and increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But experts warn the findings do not mean salt alone causes diabetes, and reducing salt remains just one part of overall diabetes prevention.
Researchers analyzed data on 400,000 UK adults over nearly 12 years. Around 13,000 developed diabetes during the study period. Participants who reported adding more salt to foods showed higher diabetes risk.
Observational Data Cannot Prove Causation
The study was observational, meaning it could only highlight connections between salt use and diabetes incidence, not prove directly that salt causes diabetes.
Experts criticized the university press release for claiming that removing saltshakers can prevent diabetes, since observational data cannot support such causal language.
While the study proposes a link, more rigorous research is needed to establish if salt intake alone drives diabetes development when other factors are excluded.
Self-Reported Data on Salt Use Was Limited
The data on participants’ salt use relied entirely on self-reporting through the question “Do you add salt to your food?” with basic frequency options.
The responses could not provide precise estimates of how much added salt might be associated with increased diabetes risk. Three-quarters of dietary salt actually comes from processed foods, not home use.
So the self-reported salt use may not fully capture individuals’ true overall sodium consumption, which comprises other sources.
Higher Sodium in Urine Also Linked to Diabetes
The researchers did use sodium measured in urine over 24 hours as a more accurate indicator of salt intake. Higher sodium levels were also associated with heightened diabetes risk.
But because diet was not considered, it’s unclear if salt alone caused the increased risk, rather than other nutritional factors. More rigorous dietary analysis is needed to truly isolate salt’s impact.
Potential Biological Mechanisms Exist
Some research indicates increased salt intake may raise cortisol levels, potentially reducing insulin effectiveness over time. This could biologically raise diabetes risk.
But this mechanism has only been evidenced in animal studies so far. The biological pathways in humans require further investigation to substantiate.
Reducing Salt Still Recommended For Health
While the direct causal links need clarification, experts agree population-wide salt reduction remains important for public health.
People with diabetes also experience blood pressure improvements when curbing salt intake. So limiting salt as part of an overall healthy lifestyle clearly benefits diabetes patients.
The study does not pinpoint an exact daily salt target. But striving for intake around the recommended 6 grams per day can boost heart and metabolic health.
Maintaining Healthy Lifestyle Most Important
Rather than focusing solely on salt, maintaining healthy body weight through sound nutrition and exercise is essential for diabetes prevention.
Salt may play a contributory role but requires more research. For now, sensible salt reduction combined with healthy eating and activity provides the best safeguards against diabetes.
The study opens promising avenues around salt’s metabolic effects. But sweeping lifestyle changes still offer the greatest protection, with or without salt’s influence.