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A salt substitute is as effective as drugs at reducing high blood pressure, according to research in northern China.

High blood pressure is a key contributor to strokes and heart attacks, which are the main causes of death in China.

These diseases are particularly common in the north of the country, where the average daily salt intake — a contributor to high blood pressure — is 12-15 grams.

The World Health Organization recommends that people eat no more than six grams of salt a day.

The researchers found that eating a salt substitute significantly reduced blood pressure in a study of 600 Chinese consumers.

They announced their findings last week (15 March) at the American College of Cardiology's 55th annual scientific meeting in Atlanta, United States.

Researcher Bruce Neal of the George Institute for International Health in Australia, says a population-wide switch to the salt substitute in rural China would prevent many hundreds of thousands of serious cases of cardiovascular disease each year.

The salt substitute was formulated to taste like salt, but has a lower sodium content.

Although the substitute costs twice as much as ordinary salt, the health benefits are worth the extra cost, says Zhao Liancheng, a professor of cardiology at Beijing Fuwai Hospital, which led the study.

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