Could adding salt to food increase the risk of developing stomach cancer?

Salt has been closely linked to a number of serious health issues, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and stroke. It’s concerning then that salt is so prevalent within the foods we eat. In fact, when it comes to the food industry, salt is everywhere. So much so that many governments across the globe are now making a concerted effort to reduce the levels of salt in the foods we eat​.

However, what governments and the food industry have no control over are the levels of salt consumers add to their meals in the home, and it’s this added salt which has come under closer scrutiny in recent years.

What are the dangers of consuming too much salt?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “almost all populations are consuming too much sodium.” The current recommended daily intake of salt is less than 5 grams per day for adults. However, the actual daily intake is in fact more than double that, at approximately 10.78 grams per day.

A high-salt diet has been associated with a number of serious health issues, including high blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, gastric cancer, obesity, osteoporosis, Meniere’s disease and kidney disease. Furthermore, the WHO estimates that there are around 1.89 million deaths per year linked to the consumption of too much salt.

“Reducing sodium intake is one of the most cost-effective measures to improve health and reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases,” says a spokesperson for the WHO.

Does adding salt to food increase risk of developing stomach cancer?

A recent study, conducted by researchers at MedUni Vienna, has identified a link between salt levels in the Western diet and stomach cancer.

While, according to the research team, the association between salt levels in the Asian diet, which is high in salt, and stomach cancer has been established for some time, this is the first time that salt levels in the Western diet have been linked to stomach cancer.

The long-term study, published in the journal Gastric Cancer, analysed data from more than 470,000 adults, between 2006 and 2010, as part of the British cohort study “UK-Biobank”.

The research team, led by Selma Kronsteiner-Gicevic and Tilman Kühn from MedUni Vienna’s Center for Public Health, compared the results of the survey, which contained information such as how often a study participant added salt to their food, with salt excretion in urine and with data from national cancer registries.

The results revealed that people who said they always or frequently added salt to their food were 39% more likely to develop stomach cancer over an observation period of around 11 years, compared with those who never or rarely added extra salt to their foods.

“Our results also stood up to the consideration of demographic, socioeconomic, and lifestyle factors and were just as valid for prevailing comorbidities,” said Selma Kronsteiner-Gicevic, first author of the study, emphasising the strength of the results.

Adding salt to food could increase the risk of developing stomach cancer by almost 40%. GettyImages/alvarez

What is UK Biobank?

UK Biobank is a large-scale biomedical database and research resource, containing de-identified genetic, lifestyle and health information and biological samples from half a million UK participants.

It is the most comprehensive and widely-used dataset of its kind, and is accessible to approved researchers worldwide.

UK Biobank’s aim is to help advance modern medicine and enable a better understanding of the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses – including cancer, heart disease and stroke.

The rising epidemic of stomach cancer

Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, is the fifth most common cancer in the world. The risk of developing stomach cancer increases with age, however, figures from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), show that a growing number of younger adults are being diagnosed with cancers of the gastrointestinal (GI) system.

According to Macmillan Cancer Support, external factors such as smoking and being overweight have already been associated with an increased risk of developing stomach cancer.

“With our study, we want to raise awareness of the negative effects of extremely high salt consumption and provide a basis for measures to prevent stomach cancer,” summarises study leader Tilman Kühn.


Source: Adding salt to food at table as an indicator of gastric cancer risk among adults: a prospective study
Published online: 17 April 2024
Authors: Selma Kronsteiner-Gicevic, Alysha S. Thompson, Martina Gaggl, William Bell, Aedín Cassidy & Tilman Kühn