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Is Dietary Salt Bad?

By January 7, 2013Commentary

It is a common public health recommendation around the world that reducing dietary salt is good for health, primarily by reducing the risks of hypertension.  But many question the “science” behind the recommendation.  An article in Health Affairs explores the controversy.  (Health Affairs Article)   As the authors point out, it is unlikely that the “evidence” for either harm or non-harm is nearly as clear as the advocates on either side make it seem.  Strong advocates against salt have often carried the day in the formulation of public health recommendations, but informed examinations of the evidence generally don’t find conclusively that salt is bad.  People on either side of the issue have taken to calling the other side names, which generally is sign that the evidence isn’t all that strong either way.

The big issue raised by this article is how much we can trust science, especially in an area like health.  This is not math or basic physics, where there are laws that reflect certain universal truths about how our world is constructed.  Health science involves extremely complex human biochemistry, which is very poorly understood.  Only within the last decade have we begun to really understand the basics of genetic regulation of health.  And science is conducted by human beings and scientists are just as prone, if not more prone because they tend to think they are pretty smart, to human thinking and emotional frailties.  A good rule is that the more a scientist is a vigorous advocate for a particular point of view, the less you should trust that point of view.  Such a scientist has drunk the kool-aid, stopped really looking for the truth and probably doesn’t really know what he or she is talking about.  People’s health is serious business; and scientists need to stick to a dispassionate search for the truth, there is no room for advocacy that interferes with neutral judgment.

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