A low salt diet can be extremely dangerous for elderly people, according to research by Professor Ingo Füsgen from the Department of Geriatrics at the University of Witten-Herdecke in Germany.
His conclusion supports claims made by the Salt Manufacturers' Association, in response to a campaign by the Food Standards Agency.
Professor Füsgen presented his findings at the European Geriatrics Congress in Vienna, which ended yesterday (September 19). They show that the symptoms of hyponatraemia (low sodium level in the blood), which are tiredness, difficulty in concentrating and loss of balance, can develop into confusion and even coma if left untreated.
His studies show that up to 10 per cent of older people suffer from sub-acute sodium deficiency, which can result in problems such as nervous disposition, hallucinations, muscle cramps and incontinence.
Professor Füsgen explained; "Sodium deficiency is common for elderly people but it is often not recognized. Many older people are not aware of the danger of a low salt diet and try to reduce their consumption of salt because they assume it is healthy to do so."
According to a survey conducted by Professor Füsgen, as part of his research, 80 per cent of elderly people try to consume salt sparingly, thinking that too much salt causes high blood pressure. Professor Füsgen maintains that a low salt diet is not appropriate for the majority of elderly people.
"We said earlier this week that In the case of the elderly, cutting salt might be dangerous, especially in the summer months. Because they tend to drink less and are less acclimatised to hot weather, salt lost through sweat is not replaced. Their blood pressure rises, so putting added strain on their hearts," says the SMA's general secretary, Peter Sherratt.
"We remain convinced that the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are ignoring inconvenient evidence in pursuit of a campaign that unfairly targets one of life¹s essentials.
"They are ignoring the need for more conclusive research and failing to make a proper assessment of the risks it could pose to some population groups."