The Great Salt Debate
By Sarah Axtell, ND • March 19, 2017
Despite its bad press, salt is critical to maintain optimal health. Sodium is essential for many biological processes, including blood pressure control, transportation of nutrients in and out of cells, and the maintenance of proper nerve transmission. Here is what you should know about this mineral:
Salt Sensitivity and Blood Pressure
When it comes to salt, many people naturally think about its effect on blood pressure. Certainly a low sodium diet can help in salt-sensitive individuals. Salt sensitivity is a measure of how your blood pressure responds to salt intake. It is estimated that 15% of white individuals are salt-sensitive, and 27% of black individuals are salt sensitive. So if you have high blood pressure, or hypertension, and you’ve been told to restrict salt, it may help a small subset of the population (the salt-sensitive individuals). But for others, a sodium restricted diet will not necessarily impact blood pressure. So many other factors play a role in the underlying etiology of hypertension, such as activity level, sugar consumption, genetics and stress.
Heart Disease and Salt- Too Much AND Too Little Can Be Contributing Factors
The body has built in mechanisms to prevent sodium from dropping too low. When you get too little salt, your body releases hormones to conserve the sodium you have. But these hormones have been found to promote inflammation in your arteries and other organs. This can explain findings of a new study that found that sodium intake below 3,000 mg per day (or 1 1/3 teaspoons of salt) was associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and cardiovascular disease- regardless of whether a person had high or normal blood pressure.
A 2014 review published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that daily sodium intake below 2,645 mg or above 4,954 mg was associated with an increased risk of mortality.
Salt and Stress
People with adrenal fatigue often crave salt. I encourage these individuals to honor this craving as salt can be nourishing to the adrenal glands.
Salt cravings in people with adrenal fatigue can primarily be explained by low aldosterone. With chronic stress and a resultant state of exhaustion, the adrenal glands fail to produce adequate amounts of cortisol, adrenaline and aldostertone. Lack of aldosterone can disrupt the electrolyte (sodium) balance at a cellular level. This results in salt cravings, low blood pressure, light-headedness, an irregular heartbeat, fatigue, muscle weakness, and dehydration. Increasing your salt intake is one way to help restore these imbalances.
Salt and Stomach Acid
Stomach acid is hydrochloric acid (HCl)and salt is sodium chloride. Consuming the right amount of salt helps you produce adequate amounts of HCl. You need HCl to absorb nutrients like magnesium, calcium and B12, to sterilize the gut and kill bacteria and to help denature proteins so they can be broken down by the digestive enzyme pepsin. See here for more information on the importance of stomach acid.
Recommended Amount of Sodium
There is a balance when it comes to sodium intake. Consuming 5,000 mg daily is too much and can in fact increase your risk of chronic disease. But as evidenced in the studies cited above, too little may also be damaging. A general recommendation for good health is to aim for 3,000-4,000 mg per day. If you have high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, diabetes, or are African American, it is recommended you monitor your sodium intake talk and talk to your doctor about the adequate amount for you. If in fact you are sodium-sensitive, for example, the 3,000-4,000 mg recommended amount may be too much for you to control your blood pressure.
Not all Salt is Created Equally- Choose Wisely.
Eighty percent of salt is consumed from processed foods. The type of salt in processed foods is highly refined. I recommend unrefined salt, such as himalayan sea salt. Himalayan sea salt contains over 84 minerals and trace elements. In addition to sodium, himalayan salt contains magnesium copper, iron and potassium. Table salt, however, just contains sodium (and iodine if it has been fortified). Refined table salt also contains preservatives and aluminum derivatives, and it undergoes a harmful bleaching process. Himalayan salt however is unadulterated. So don’t be afraid to shake up your salt at the table by replacing your nutrient-devoid table salt with this pink salt rockstar.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.