WHILE it is widely known that excessive salt consumption can cause high blood pressure and heart disease, scientists now believe that it can also increase the risk of stomach cancer
Every day 13 people in the UK die from stomach cancer, according to statistics released by NHS Choices.
The most well-established risk factor is infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which causes inflammation within the stomach that can progress to stomach cancer.
Now scientists believe that eating too much salt also increases the risk of stomach cancer, with a direct relationship found between salt consumption and cancer risk.
According to Professor John Atherton, United European Gastroenterology Secretary General, the combination of H. pylori infection and a high salt intake appears to be especially dangerous.
He says: “Although we don’t know exactly why salt increases the risk of stomach cancer, studies suggest that it may encourage the growth of H. pylori and make it more toxic to the cells of the stomach.”
H. pylori infection, which typically occurs during childhood, is difficult to detect, but has been estimated to be responsible for around three-quarters of all stomach cancers.
Excessive salt consumption is thought to contribute to a quarter of all cases.
“Most of us know that salt is associated with high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke,” adds Prof. Atherton.
“However, I suspect very few people are aware that a high-salt diet may also increase the risk of stomach cancer.”
Current guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggest that no more than 5g of salt (less than 1 teaspoon) should be eaten per day.
This can be a challenging target given that most salt in our diets is not added by us, but comes from processed foods such as bread, cheese, breakfast cereals and ready meals.
“In the UK, our salt target for adults is no more than 6 g per day, which should theoretically reduce the risk of stomach cancer as well as other salt-related health problems,” says Prof. Atherton.
“Although we need more studies to confirm that eating a low-salt diet reduces the incidence of stomach cancer, there is preliminary evidence from Japan to suggest this would be the case.”
You can reduce salt in your diet by taking special care when shopping to, buy low-salt versions of your favourite foods; moderate your intake of some foods such as cured meat, bread, cheese and table sauces; and to add no salt during cooking or at the table.
This will reduce your risk of a variety of diseases, particularly heart disease and stroke and it now looks as though it will also reduce your risk of developing stomach cancer.