Among those with previous stroke or older than 60 and with high blood pressure, the rates of stroke, major cardiovascular (CV) events, and death from any cause were lower with the salt substitute than with regular salt, found a large study the New England Journal of Medicine.
Both elevated sodium intake and low potassium intake are associated with high blood pressure and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.
Salt substitutes, which replace part of the sodium chloride in regular salt with potassium chloride, have been shown to lower blood pressure but their effects on heart disease, stroke, and death had been uncertain. In addition, there had been concerns about causing hyperkalaemia in people with chronic kidney disease leading to cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death.
The Salt Substitute and Stroke Study (SSaSS) compared the effect of reduced sodium salt substitute versus regular salt on stroke, cardiovascular events, mortality and clinical hyperkalaemia.
SSaSS was an open, cluster-randomised, trial that enrolled participants between April 2014 and January 2015. Participants were adults with either previous stroke or age 60 years and above with poorly controlled blood pressure.
The trial was conducted in 600 villages in rural areas of five provinces in China. Two counties within each province were chosen that represented the socioeconomic development level of rural counties in that province. Approximately 35 individuals were recruited from each village — for a total of 20,995 participants. Participants were cluster-randomised by village in a 1O1 ratio to provision of salt substitute or continued use of regular salt.
Participants in intervention villages were given free salt substitute (about 75% sodium chloride and 25% potassium chloride) as a replacement for regular salt and advised to use it for all cooking, seasoning and food preservation. They were also encouraged to use the salt replacement more sparingly than they previously used salt to maximise their sodium reduction. Sufficient salt substitute was provided to cover the needs of the entire household (about 20 g per person per day). Participants in control villages continued their usual habits.
The average age of participants was 65.4 years and 49.5% were female. Some 72.6% had a history of stroke and 88.4% had a history of hypertension.
During an average follow up of 4.74 years, more than 3,000 people had a stroke, more than 4,000 died and more than 5,000 had a major cardiovascular event. The risk of stroke was reduced with salt substitute compared to regular salt (29.14 versus 33.65 per 1,000 patient-years; rate ratio [RR] 0.86; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.77-0.96; p=0.006).
Regarding secondary outcomes, major cardiovascular events (non-fatal stroke, non-fatal acute coronary syndrome, vascular death) were reduced with salt substitute (49.09 versus 56.29 per 1,000 patient-years; RR 0.87; 95% CI 0.80-0.94; p<0.001) as was total mortality (39.27 versus 44.61 per 1,000 patient-years; RR 0.88; 95% CI 0.82-0.95; p<0.001).
Regarding safety, there was no increased risk of serious adverse events attributed to clinical hyperkalaemia with salt substitute compared to regular salt (3.35 versus 3.30 per 1,000 patient years; RR 1.04; 95% CI 0.80-1.37; p=0.76). Neither were any other risks identified.
Principal investigator Professor Bruce Neal of the George Institute for Global Health, Sydney, Australia said: "This study provides clear evidence about an intervention that could be taken up very quickly at very low cost. A recent modelling study done for China projected that 365,000 strokes and 461,000 premature deaths could be avoided each year in China if salt substitute were proved to be effective. We have now showed that it is effective, and these are the benefits for China alone. Salt substitution could be used by billions more with even greater benefits."
He added: "The trial result is particularly exciting because salt substitution is one of the few practical ways of achieving changes in the salt people eat. Other salt reduction interventions have struggled to achieve large and sustained impact.
"Importantly, salt substitute is very easy to manufacture and it is not expensive. A kilo of regular salt, which lasts for months, costs about US$1.08 in China. The price for a kilo of salt substitute is $1.62/kg," he said. "It is primarily lower-income and more disadvantaged populations that add large amounts of salt during food preparation and cooking. This means that salt substitute has the potential to reduce health inequities related to cardiovascular disease."
Effect of Salt Substitution on Cardiovascular Events and Death
Bruce Neal, Yangfeng Wu, Xiangxian Feng, Ruijuan Zhang, Yuhong Zhang, Jingpu Shi, Jianxin Zhang, Maoyi Tian, Liping Huang, Zhifang Li, Yan Yu, Yi Zhao, Bo Zhou, Jixin Sun, Yishu Liu, Xuejun Yin, Zhixin Hao, Jie Yu, Ka-Chun Li, Xinyi Zhang, Peifen Duan, Faxuan Wang, Bing Ma, Weiwei Shi, Gian Luca Di Tanna, Sandrine Stepien, Sana Shan, Sallie-Anne Pearson, Nicole Li, Lijing L. Yan, Darwin Labarthe, Paul Elliott.
Published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 30 August 2021
Salt substitutes with reduced sodium levels and increased potassium levels have been shown to lower blood pressure, but their effects on cardiovascular and safety outcomes are uncertain.
We conducted an open-label, cluster-randomised trial involving persons from 600 villages in rural China. The participants had a history of stroke or were 60 years of age or older and had high blood pressure. The villages were randomly assigned in a 1:1 ratio to the intervention group, in which the participants used a salt substitute (75% sodium chloride and 25% potassium chloride by mass), or to the control group, in which the participants continued to use regular salt (100% sodium chloride). The primary outcome was stroke, the secondary outcomes were major adverse cardiovascular events and death from any cause, and the safety outcome was clinical hyperkalemia.
A total of 20,995 persons were enrolled in the trial. The mean age of the participants was 65.4 years, and 49.5% were female, 72.6% had a history of stroke, and 88.4% a history of hypertension. The mean duration of follow-up was 4.74 years. The rate of stroke was lower with the salt substitute than with regular salt (29.14 events vs. 33.65 events per 1000 person-years; rate ratio, 0.86; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.77 to 0.96; P=0.006), as were the rates of major cardiovascular events (49.09 events vs. 56.29 events per 1000 person-years; rate ratio, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.80 to 0.94; P<0.001) and death (39.28 events vs. 44.61 events per 1000 person-years; rate ratio, 0.88; 95% CI, 0.82 to 0.95; P<0.001). The rate of serious adverse events attributed to hyperkalemia was not significantly higher with the salt substitute than with regular salt (3.35 events vs. 3.30 events per 1000 person-years; rate ratio, 1.04; 95% CI, 0.80 to 1.37; P=0.76).
Among persons who had a history of stroke or were 60 years of age or older and had high blood pressure, the rates of stroke, major cardiovascular events, and death from any cause were lower with the salt substitute than with regular salt.
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