Adding table salt to your food could increase risk of stomach cancer by 41%, study finds

The study out of the U.K. notes the correlation between added salt and stomach cancer could be even higher because it didn't account for the sodium levels already in the food.
A saltshaker is spilled.
Posted at 9:54 PM, May 13, 2024

Are you always sprinkling a bit more salt onto your food after it hits your table? A new study suggests that's putting you at a greater risk of developing gastric cancer.

The research, published in the journal Gastric Cancer, looked into the eating habits of more than 471,000 U.K. Biobank participants with no existing cancer or kidney issues and found that those who said they "always added salt to food at table" had a 41% greater risk of getting stomach cancer than those who never or rarely did.

The results were identified after an 11-year median follow-up period with the participants in which researchers recorded 640 cancer cases,

But the researchers note individuals who add more salt to their foods are also more likely to already be eating foods with higher sodium levels. That means the true association between salt intake and gastric cancer risk could be higher because the study's data didn't include participants' complete dietary sodium intake.

Stomach cancer is the fifth-most-common cancer worldwide, though the National Cancer Institute says it's more common in East Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Although anyone can get the disease, in the U.S., the NCI says men are twice as likely to be diagnosed than women, and Black males are nearly twice as likely to die of it than White males. Also, stomach cancer rates have been increasing in younger women despite the risk increasing as a person gets older.

The NCI says eating a diet that is "low in fruits and vegetables or that is high in salted, smokey, or poorly preserved foods" also increases risk of developing stomach cancer. And since the CDC says most Americans consume too much sodium — an average of 3,400 milligrams daily, though the federal recommendation is less than 2,300 — it's a good idea to take note of your intake levels.

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Those who don't are at risk of increasing blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke. The latter two kill more Americans each year than any other cause, according to the CDC.

Until this most recent study, researchers say most investigations into the role of dietary salt intake and gastric cancer risk have been inconclusive or limited to Asian populations, which often have higher levels of sodium from salted fish, pickled foods and processed meats, the study says.

Its hypothesis showing positive correlations between added salt and gastric cancer is consistent with multiple of the other studies among Asian populations. However, smaller studies from Europe that used different indicators, like a person's total dietary sodium intake, show inconsistencies.

But the researchers in this study say investigating a person adding salt to food as an eating behavior instead of looking into behaviors prone to day-to-day variation led to a more simple indicator for the effects of excessive sodium. This indicator can also be "easily convertible" into a public health message to reduce overall sodium intake, the study says.

The study notes limitations like the influence of sex, age, ethnicity and smoking status still exist. The researchers say larger studies among other non-Asian populations are needed to better quantify the connection between salt and gastric cancer.