Bill Rasmussen's life has changed dramatically since suffering his first stroke more than seven years ago. Besides his need for a wheelchair, doctors suggested some major changes to his diet.
"They wanted me to have a more balanced diet, stay away from salty food, prepared food, hot dogs," Rasmussen said.
That's because salt can increase your blood pressure-- one of the risk factors for stroke. But now, a new study suggests salt plays a more direct role in stroke risk. Researchers in Florida looked at nearly 2,700 people.
"About 90 percent of all the people in the study were over the recommended amount of sodium intake, which is about 1,500 milligrams, which equals less than a third of a teaspoon of salt," said Dr. Chris Commichau, a neurologist at Fletcher Allen Health Care.
That's not a lot of salt, yet those who consumed more than that Heart Association guideline of 1,500 milligrams per day faced a significantly higher risk.
"The association with stroke in this study was even stronger than with cardiovascular disease, heart attack. So for neurologists this is a very important study looking specifically at the risk of stroke, which for patients in this study resulted in almost two and a half times greater risk over a 10-year period. That is a tremendous public health burden," Commichau said.
And that greater risk goes for everyone-- the general public-- not just those who already have risk factors and other health issues such as diabetes.
But the remedy isn't simple. You can't just put away the salt shaker at home because 80 percent of the salt we consume each day is already in our food in packaged foods and restaurant food. Commichau calls it a major public policy issue.
"I think it's really important for the public to know that they should really pay attention to the labeling and really to keep track of how much salt they're taking in," Commichau said.
That's exactly what Bill Rasmussen did.
Reporter Bridget Barry Caswell: You used to eat out a lot before?
Bill Rasmussen: Yes, at least five times a week.
Barry Caswell: And now?
Rasmussen: Once a week - tops.
Big changes as researchers learn more about the food we eat and its role in America's number three killer-- strokes.
More than 12,000 Vermonters suffer strokes each year.
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