Long-Term Effect of Salt Substitution for Cardiovascular Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Hannah Greenwood, Katelyn Barnes, Justin Clark, Lauren Ball, Loai Albarqouni

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Salt substitution is a simple yet increasingly promising strategy to improve cardiovascular outcomes.

PURPOSE: To evaluate the long-term effects of salt substitution on cardiovascular outcomes.

DATA SOURCES: PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane CENTRAL, and CINAHL searched from inception to 23 August 2023. Trial registries, citation analysis, and hand-search were also done.

STUDY SELECTION: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing provision of or advice to use a salt substitute with no intervention or use of regular salt among adults for 6 months or longer in total study duration.

DATA EXTRACTION: Two authors independently screened articles, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. Primary outcomes include mortality, major cardiovascular events (MACE), and adverse events at 6 months or greater. Secondary and post hoc outcomes include blood pressure, cause-specific mortality, and urinary excretion at 6 months or greater. Random-effects meta-analyses were done and certainty of effect estimates were assessed using GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation).

DATA SYNTHESIS: Of the 16 included RCTs, 8 reported on primary outcomes. Most ( n  = 7 of 8) were done in China or Taiwan, 3 were done in residential facilities, and 7 included populations of older age (average 62 years) and/or with higher-than-average cardiovascular risk. In this population, salt substitute may reduce risk for all-cause mortality (6 RCTs; 27 710 participants; rate ratio [RR], 0.88 [95% CI, 0.82 to 0.93]; low certainty) and cardiovascular mortality (4 RCTs; 25 050 participants; RR, 0.83 [CI, 0.73 to 0.95]; low certainty). Salt substitute may result in a slight reduction in MACE (3 RCTs; 23 215 participants; RR, 0.85 [CI, 0.71 to 1.00]; very low certainty), with very low-certainty evidence of serious adverse events (6 RCTs; 27 995 participants; risk ratio, 1.04 [CI, 0.87 to 1.25]).

LIMITATIONS: The evidence base is dominated by a single, large RCT. Most RCTs were from China or Taiwan and involved participants with higher-than-average cardiovascular risk; therefore, generalizability to other populations is very limited.

CONCLUSION: Salt substitution may reduce all-cause or cardiovascular mortality, but the evidence for reducing cardiovascular events and for not increasing serious adverse events is uncertain, particularly for a Western population. The certainty of evidence is higher among populations at higher cardiovascular risk and/or following a Chinese diet.

PRIMARY FUNDING SOURCE: National Health and Medical Research Council. (PROSPERO: CRD42022327566).

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of Internal Medicine
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Apr 2024


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