MONDAY, April 14, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A drop in salt consumption likely played a big role in a recent large reduction in deaths related to heart disease and stroke in England, a new study suggests.
The amount of salt in people's diets declined 15 percent from 2003 to 2011. And deaths from heart disease fell by 40 percent and deaths from stroke decreased by 42 percent during that period, according to the study.
Programs to reduce salt consumption throughout the United Kingdom began in 2003.
However, the researchers also said that salt consumption in England is still too high and much more needs to be done to lower salt content in foods. Salt boosts blood pressure, experts note, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
The new study was published online April 15 in the journal BMJ Open.
For the study, researcher Graham MacGregor, at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London, and colleagues analyzed data gathered from thousands of people who were followed from 2003 to 2011.
During that time, the participants showed improvements in several risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Average cholesterol and blood pressure levels fell, consumption of fruits and vegetables rose, and smoking rates decreased, according to a journal news release.
While these changes contributed to the decrease in heart disease and stroke deaths, it was the 15 percent reduction in salt intake that had the greatest impact, the study authors speculated.
"The reduction in salt intake is likely to be an important contributor to the falls in blood pressure in England from 2003 to 2011. As a result, the decrease in salt intake would have played an important role in the reduction in stroke and ischemic heart disease mortality during this period," the researchers wrote.
However, they noted that 70 percent of adults in England still consume more than recommended daily maximum amount of salt, with 80 percent of salt intake coming from processed foods.
"Therefore, continuing and much greater efforts are needed to achieve further reductions in salt intake to prevent the maximum number of stroke and heart disease deaths," the study authors concluded.
While the study found a link between reduced salt consumption and death rates, it didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship. Also, the authors could not account for physical activity levels, another possible factor.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute explains how to reduce salt in your diet.