Salt may increase stomach cancer risk by 40 percent: Study

Have a habit of adding table salt to your food? Stop, as it may increase stomach cancer risk by 40 percent, reveals a study.

Salt is an important ingredient that can make add taste to a dish. But if you have a habit of sprinkling salt over salad, fruits or other foods, it’s time you reconsider. High salt intake is not only associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension, but it may affect your gut too. It may increase your risk of stomach cancer by 40 percent, reveals a new study. Read on to know the link between salt and stomach cancer.

What does the study say about salt intake and stomach cancer?

Researchers analysed data from over 500,000 people from the United Kingdom. People with cancer or kidney issues were not part of the research, published in the Gastric Cancer journal in April 2024. It was found that those who added salt to food at table had a 41 percent greater risk of developing gastric or stomach cancer than those who never or rarely added salt.

Adding salt to food may increase stomach cancer risk
Too much salt is not good for your gut health. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

This is not the first study to explore the connection between salt intake and stomach cancer. A strong adverse effect of too much salt and salt-rich foods was found on the risk of gastric cancer in people, as per an analysis published in the Advances in Nutrition and Cancer in 2014.

Salt and stomach cancer

The association between salt and stomach cancer stems from the interaction between salt and the lining of the stomach. High salt intake can lead to the formation of certain compounds, such as nitrites and N-nitroso compounds, which are known to be carcinogenic, explains dietician Shruti K Bhardwaj. These compounds can damage the stomach lining over time, increasing the likelihood of developing cancerous cells. Also, salt can cause inflammation in the stomach, further contributing to the development of cancer.

What are the effects of excessive salt intake on gut health?

Adults should take salt less than 5 g/day or just under a teaspoon, as per the World Health Organization. Eating too much salt should be avoided, as it can have various negative effects on the gut health.

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1. Dysbiosis

High salt intake can disrupt the balance of gut microbiota, leading to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and a decrease in beneficial bacteria. This imbalance, known as dysbiosis, can impair digestion, weaken the immune system, and increase susceptibility to gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, says the expert.

2. Ulcer

Excessive salt consumption can contribute to the development of conditions like gastritis and peptic ulcers by causing irritation and inflammation of the stomach lining. These conditions can lead to symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and in severe cases, internal bleeding.

3. Hypertension and gut

High salt intake may increase risk of developing hypertension, which can damage blood vessels throughout the body, including those in the gastrointestinal tract, says Bhardwaj. This can lead to complications such as bleeding, ulcers, and ischemic bowel disease.

What are the ways to reduce salt intake?

There are several strategies to reduce salt intake and improve overall health –

1. Avoid highly processed foods

Many highly processed and packaged foods contain high levels of salt as a preservative and flavour enhancer. These can be processed meats like bacon, and sausage. Canned soups, chips, salted nuts, and ready-to-eat meals are all high in salt, so avoid them as much as you can.

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Woman cooking to reduce salt intake and stomach cancer risk
Cook at home as much as you can to reduce salt intake. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

2. Cook at home

By preparing meals from scratch, you can control the amount of salt added to your food and avoid the high salt content found in many processed foods, says the expert. Using fresh ingredients will be good for your health.

3. Use herbs and spices for flavour

You don’t have to rely on salt for preparing all the dishes. Experiment with herbs, spices, and citrus juices to add flavour to your meals without relying on salt.

4. Read food labels

While buying food from stores, pay attention to the sodium content listed on food labels. Choose items that come in lower-sodium options whenever possible.

5. Be mindful when dining out

While eating at restaurants or ordering takeout, be mindful. If there are sauces and dressings, ask them on the side so that you can control the quantity. You can also request the staff to prepare meals with less salt.

Salt is a common seasoning used to enhance flavour of a dish, but excessive consumption may have detrimental effects on stomach health. So, gradually reduce salt intake for the sake of your health.

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