A new study in JAMA found higher salt consumption strongly associated with less death from heart disease. The association with total mortality (more salt, less death) was almost significant. To grasp the strength of the evidence, see this. Yes, it’s a correlation, but I don’t know of any examples of such a strong correlation reversing (so that more salt is now correlated with more death) when now-unknown confounders are taken into account. In 1998, Gary Taubes argued that the benefits of salt reduction were greatly overstated. The new study did find more salt correlated with higher systolic blood pressure but in the big picture (mortality) that didn’t matter. If all those warnings about salt had any effect, the new study suggests their effect was negative.
Perhaps people who eat less salt are more credulous (they believed the experts) — and this damages them in other ways? Perhaps they rely on doctors more, for example. It is hard to interpret this finding in a way that makes mainstream health care look good. A New York Times article about the study points out that “the new study is not the only one to find adverse effects of low-sodium diets.” And it reports what someone at the Centers for Disease Control said:
Dr. Peter Briss, a medical director at the centers, said that the study was small; that its subjects were relatively young, with an average age of 40 at the start; and that with few cardiovascular events, it was hard to draw conclusions.
Dr. Briss fails to understand statistics. Ordinary statistical calculations take sample size and number of events into consideration when indicating the strength of the evidence. That’s the one of the main purposes of those calculations. As for “relatively young,” I know of nothing to suggest that the effects of sodium reverse with age — so it is irrelevant that the subjects were relatively young. That someone at the CDC is so clueless is remarkable.