SCOTTISH scientists have shed new light on why many people crave salty food and are using their pioneering research to try and dramatically cut heart disease rates.
Edinburgh University researchers have unearthed a gene that effects how the brain controls our appetite for salt and how this impacts on blood pressure levels.
Two-thirds of adults in Scotland continue to eat too much salt even though they know it is bad for their health, raising their risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Dr Matthew Bailey, who led the study, said: “In the UK we routinely eat much more salt than our bodies need. For most people this is bad for our heart, blood vessels and kidneys.
“Our study shows we have a genetic drive to consume salty food. Understanding how this process works may help us reduce the amount of salt we eat and make it easier for people to follow low-salt diets.”
His team, who worked in conjunction with the British Heart Foundation’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science, modified mice to remove a gene in a small number of cells in the mouse brain.
This gene is known to be linked with high blood pressure in humans but the way this is controlled is unclear.
The team found that removing the gene caused the mice to develop a strong appetite for salt. When offered a choice of normal drinking water or saltwater, they consumed three times more saltwater than unmodified mice.
The trial also revealed the modified mice went on to experience high blood pressure for as long as they drank saltwater - but when the saltwater was removed their blood pressure returned to normal.
The scientists say the findings show the gene plays an important role in controlling both the appetite for salt, and its effect in raising blood pressure and hope a medicine to help people manage their salt intake and curb the adverse effects of high blood pressure can be developed.
Food Standards Scotland says salt intake in Scotland is still, on average, 30 per cent higher than the recommended 6g per day.
The food body said 75 per cent of salt consumed is already present in things like bread, meat products, cereals and convenience foods.
It has recognised the efforts of manufacturers and retailers in reducing salt content but said more must be done to reach the 6g per day goal.
Heather Peace, head of nutrition science policy at Food Standards Scotland, said: ““As well as cutting down on salty foods and adding less salt at home, people in Scotland can make informed choices when shopping by checking food labels and choosing lower salt products. It is also important to choose less salty food when eating out.”