Recent studies have found a direct relationship between salt consumption and stomach cancer risk, and diets high in salt are thought to contribute to a quarter of all cases of the disease.
"I suspect very few people are aware that a high-salt diet increases the risk of stomach cancer, and it is vital that people understand all the health risks associated with this dietary factor.”says Professor John Atherton, chair of the UEG Scientific Committee, an organisation that brings together the leading European societies concerned with digestive diseases.
"Although we don’t know exactly why salt increases the risk of stomach cancer, studies suggest that it may encourage the growth of [an infection called] H. pylori and make it more toxic to the cells of the stomach," he adds.
H. pylori causes inflammation within the stomach that can progress to stomach cancer. It is the most well-established risk factor for increasing a person's likelihood of developing the disease.
“Following recommended guidelines for salt intake should theoretically reduce the risk of stomach cancer as well as other salt-related health problems,” says Prof. Atherton.
“Although we need more studies to confirm that eating a low-salt diet reduces the incidence of stomach cancer, there is preliminary evidence from Japan to suggest this would be the case.”
Stomach cancer affects about 7,300 people each year in the UK and according to Cancer Research UK around 24% of stomach cancers are linked to eating more than 6g of salt per day.
Most of us currently consume around 8.6g of salt a day, so we could do with cutting down. But unfortunately it's not as simple as removing the salt shaker from the dinner table.
Around 75% of the salt we consume is hidden in processed foods, so to reduce the amount of salt in your diet World Action On Salt recommend:
* Compare nutrition labels on food packaging and always go for the product which contains less salt per 100g.
* Swap from branded products to retailers’ own brands, as they tend to be lower in salt.
* Look for lower salt and ‘no added salt’ versions of your usual foods in the supermarket eg. canned vegetables, tinned fish in spring water, ketchup and baked beans.
* Avoid eating lots of processed meats and instead cook from scratch using unprocessed meat, fish and vegetables.
* Cut back on sauces such as soy sauce, ketchup, brown sauce and salad dressings as these can be high in salt.
* Choose lower salt-stocks, use half a stock cube, or make your own low-salt stock.