In response to the rising cardiovascular burden in Lebanon and the growing recognition of the contribution of excess salt to the development of hypertension and other diseases, the Lebanese Action on Sodium and Health (LASH) group was established in February 2012 as part of the Vascular Medicine Program at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC).
The mission of Lebanon Action for Sodium and Health (LASH) is to optimize salt intake among the Lebanese population by raising awareness on salt-related health risks, providing professional and lay education and training, conducting original salt-related research, connecting with global salt optimization leaders and advocating for salt reduction in high-salt food products.
A world where salt does not contribute to cardiovascular disease
The aim of the group is to develop a national strategy to optimize the Lebanese population’s salt intake, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders.
Its objectives include:
- Increasing salt-related data in Lebanon
- Improving salt knowledge, attitudes and behavior in the Lebanese population
- Enhancing salt reduction skills among lay and professional individuals
- Creating a “low-salt environment” through product reformulation and regulation and establishing a national salt monitoring and evaluation system.
This initiative is multi-disciplinary and takes an ecological approach to salt optimization. Its members include individuals from the Faculty of Medicine, Health Sciences, Nutrition, Food Sciences and Engineering.
The strategy adopted by LASH centers around 4 main pillars, including research, health communications, advocacy and evaluation and monitoring. In the first phase, factors affecting individual health behaviors will be addressed. In the second phase, environmental factors such as regulation and product reformulation will be tackled.
In terms of research, LASH aims to assess current national salt intake levels and individual awareness of salt-associated health hazards in addition to salt levels in various food products. .
In terms of communications, the group aims to partner with a communications company to develop and launch a national salt reduction campaign in order to raise awareness on salt hazards and empower consumers to make better dietary choices. The campaign will include print, audiovisual and online material, which will be disseminated simultaneously and focus on specific target groups at different times.
In terms of advocacy, LASH aims to partner with national regulatory bodies as well as willing food industry representatives to develop low-salt product reformulation standards and lobby for effective and user-friendly food labels.
In terms of evaluation and monitoring, LASH aims to perform regular impact and reach assessments that would identify potential gaps to be addressed, guide the initiative’s progress and inform its future steps.
Ongoing Research Projects
There is accumulating evidence signifying that cells of the adaptive immune system contribute to end-organ effects of hypertension. For example, mice that are deficient in T cells, B cells, or inflammatory cytokines display blunted hypertension and attenuated end-organ damage in response to hypertensive stimuli. Immunological memory is a cardinal feature of adaptive immunity, augmenting responses and providing protection against previously encountered antigens. Dr. Itani identified a novel role of memory T cells which accumulate in the kidney and bone marrow in response to repeated hypertensive stimuli and showed that these cells are primarily responsible for production of injurious cytokines including IFN- and IL-17A that cause end-organ damage. She proposed a novel paradigm where reactivation of effector memory T cells contribute to persistent salt-sensitivity and ultimately to renal and vascular dysfunction.