High salt diets may delay the onset of puberty, a new study suggests. New research suggests that eating too much salt could delay changes in the body, while eating too little had the same effect. Researchers said the increasing salt content of Western diets meant the findings could have significant consequences for the reproductive health of future generations.

Late puberty is linked to behavioural problems and reduced fertility. The findings, presented today at the European Congress of Endocrinology in Dublin, follow a study in rats.

Researchers from University of Wyoming, USA led by Ms Dori Pitynski found that those fed a high salt diet – equivalent to three times the recommended daily allowance for humans – had a significant delay in reaching puberty compared to those fed a low salt diet. Rats that had salt completely excluded from their diet also had delayed onset of puberty. The World Health Organisation recommends a daily allowance of 5 g of salt per day for adults. But the average Briton consumes 8.1g a day of salt.

To date, while work has been done on the effect of varying levels of dietary fats on puberty, nobody has yet looked at the effect of dietary salts. The new study examined the impacts of fat and salt. “Our work shows that high levels of fat and salt have opposite effects reproductive health” said Ms Pitynski. “High fat diet is thought to accelerate the onset of puberty but our work demonstrates that rats fed a high salt diet even with a high fat diet will still show a delay in puberty onset.”

“Our research highlights for the first time that the salt content of a diet has a more significant effect on reproductive health than the fat content,” she said. Recent guidelines from WHO state that populations around the world are consuming much more salt than is physiologically necessary, and certainly more that the WHO recommended daily allowance of 5 g of salt per day for adults.  Sodium is found naturally in a variety of foods, including milk, cream and eggs.

It is also found, in much higher amounts, in processed foods, such as bread, processed meats like bacon, snack foods as well as in condiments such as soy sauce and stock cubes; which are becoming more prevalent in the Western diet. “Current salt-loading in Western populations has the potential to drastically affect reproductive health, and warrants further attention,” researchers said.

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