Many common medications may be hiding excess sodium

Researchers are warning that there’s one source of sodium that you might not realize may be affecting your diet -- common medications.

A new study published in BMJ on Nov. 26 reveals that taking the maximum dose of some medications -- and nothing else -- would exceed the daily recommended limits for sodium.

The researchers examined about 1.3 million patients in the U.K. for a little over seven years. They took note of the amount of cardiovascular events -- including non-fatal heart attacks, non-fatal strokes or vascular death -- that occurred during that time. The subjects were either taking sodium-containing effervescent, dispersible and soluble medications -- such as aspirin -- or they were taking non-sodium containing versions of those medications.

After factoring out all other risk factors, they found that people taking the sodium-containing medications were 16 percent more likely to have a heart attack, stroke or vascular death during the study period compared to those taking the non-sodium treatments. Overall death rates were 28 percent higher for the sodium group.

In addition, patients who took the sodium-containing medications were seven times more likely to develop high blood pressure.

The American Heart Association warns that nine out of 10 Americans eat too much sodium. They recommend that people consume no more than 1,500 milligrams or less of sodium daily, but the average person consumes about 3,400 milligrams.

Excess sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which is the leading risk factor of death for U.S. women. It can also increase the chance of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, kidney disease, kidney stones, enlarged heart muscle and headaches. Eating too much salt can also cause you to retain water, which makes you look puffy.

Professor Gareth Beevers from the Blood Pressure U.K. organization told the BBC that it was surprising to find out that so much sodium was lurking inside our medications.

    "Without clear labeling on these products, it is impossible to know how much additional sodium you would be eating, so it is shocking to find you could be having more than your daily maximum from medicines alone,” Beevers, who was not involved in the study, said. "Eating too much sodium -- in any form -- puts up our blood pressure, which puts you at increased risk of strokes and heart attacks, the biggest killers in the world."

The researchers said that people should be warned about the high sodium content from prescribed medications, and urged that sodium be labeled on medications similar to how it is labeled on food products. They also added that sodium-containing treatments should be prescribed only if necessary and with caution.

"These drugs are also available over the counter, they can be picked up in the supermarket. We have no control over how many millions of people are buying these drugs,” lead researcher Jacob George, a senior clinical lecturer and honorary consultant in clinical pharmacology at Dundee University, told the Guardian. "The ones we looked at were prescribed by GPs (general practitioners), but there's a potentially much larger problem with these drugs being bought over the counter and in supermarkets."