Cardiovascular disease accounts for roughly 30 percent of deaths globally every year according to World Health Organisation (WHO) figures — a driving factor of which is hypertension (high blood pressure), caused by eating a diet high in salt.

Preliminary links have also been made between hypertension and a higher risk of death from COVID-19.

Switching from regular household salt to potassium-enriched salt substitutes could save almost half a million lives in China every year, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal on Thursday.

Study author and Programme Head of Nutrition Science at The George Institute Jason Wu told Xinhua that China had a relatively high sodium intake, most of which came from salt being added while cooking or at the table.

“What we didn’t know before this study was if you were to implement this kind of intervention on a large scale in a country like China — where the problem of high salt intake, high blood pressure and high rates of CVD is particularly prominent — what will be the potential benefits,” Wu said.

As well as lowering CVD related deaths the team’s modeling also showed that salt substitutes could prevent around 743,000 non-fatal CVD events each year, including 365,000 strokes and 147,000 heart attacks, and decrease rates of chronic kidney disease (CKD) by around 120,000 each year.

The salt substitutes recommended by Wu and his colleagues contain less sodium chloride than regular salt, with roughly 70 percent sodium and the other 30 percent potassium chloride.

Studies have shown that ratio to offer the biggest benefit to health while the difference in taste remains imperceptible to most people.

Wu noted that one concern would be for people with advanced CKD who may experience complications from an increase in potassium in their diet, recommending that those with CKD consult a doctor before switching to a salt substitute.

However he added that even for those with CKD, salt substitutes resulted in a net benefit to overall health due to the drop in blood pressure.

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