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What Determines Human Sodium Intake: Policy or Physiology?

McCarron, David A.
Advances in nutrition 2014 v.5 no.5 pp. 578-584
food availability, health policy, humans, normal distribution, nutrients, physiology, public policy, randomized clinical trials, sodium, surveys, United States
Past and current U.S. sodium and health policy focused on population-wide reductions in sodium intake. Underlying that policy are a number of assumptions that recent scientific publications challenged. The assumptions include the following: 1) that current intakes are excessive; 2) that the “healthy range” must be below current intakes; 3) that sodium intake can be substantially reduced by public policy; 4) that human intake is dictated by the sodium content of the food supply; and 5) that, unlike all other essential nutrients in which a healthy range is defined by a Gaussian distribution, lower sodium intake is always better. Drawing on the most current published evidence, this review addresses each of these long-standing assumptions. Based on worldwide surveys that assessed sodium intake by 24-h urinary sodium measurements, it is now evident that, across 45 societies and 5 decades, humans consume a reproducible, narrow range of sodium: ∼2600–4800 mg/d. This range is independent of the food supply, verifiable in randomized controlled trials, consistent with the physiologic regulators of sodium intake and is not modifiable by public policy interventions. These findings indicate that human sodium intake is controlled by physiology and cannot be modified by public health policies.