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Study: More than 1.6 million deaths a year associated with excess sodium intake

Don't pass the salt: New research shows that globally, excess sodium consumption is the cause of about 1.65 million deaths by strokes and heart disease every year. About 667,000 of those deaths are "premature," happening before the age of 70.

Sodium can be dangerous because high amounts are often hidden in packaged snacks, canned soups, and breads. The new study, from an international team led by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of Harvard University's School of Public Health, researchers discovered that 1 in 10 cardiovascular deaths around the world can be attributed to excessive sodium consumption, the Los Angeles Times reports, with one in five younger than 70.

The study was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers found that around the world, daily sodium intake averaged 3.95 grams per day, but got as high as 5.15 grams. This is above the range suggested by the Institute of Medicine, which recommends just 1.5 grams per day for a person with diabetes or high blood pressure, and up to 2.3 grams for others.

Not everyone needs to cut their sodium intake; in fact, for people with chronic kidney disease or heart failure, a diet very low in sodium can cause complications leading to death. The optimal amount of sodium to consume isn't clear, Harvard's Dr. Walter Willett told the Times, but less is usually better. "Given the very clear relation between sodium intake and higher blood pressure, and evidence that reducing intake reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, I think the new findings do not change the basic conclusion that we should be moving toward lower sodium intakes," he said.

Read more about the study at the Los Angeles Times.