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What is the influence of salt in your body

Updated on October 18, 2010

Our main source of salt is just normal table salt. Everyone owns it and uses it on a daily basis. This type of salt consists of two minerals, 400mg of sodium and 600mg of chloride. It is a known fact that too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, which in turn can be a factor in heart disease. But this is not the only effect salt has on our body. We need it to, to help regulate our water intake. The big problem of these days however, is that we consume a lot more salt than we need, without really being aware of it. So what effect does salt actually have on our body?

The positive influence of salt

Your body can’t produce sodium, so salt is important in your diet. Sodium helps regulate the water balance ph of your body, and it regulates your blood pressure. Salt is essential when you do a lot of exercise, as it helps regulate the amount of water in your body, and makes you thirsty so you will replenish the amount of water you lost through sweating. Sodium also helps with the conduction of stimulants in the nerves and the contraction of your muscles.

Sodium and Chloride regulate our blood pressure together. Sodium increases our blood pressure, but chloride works to bring it down and helps to secrete sodium. It is very important both minerals are balanced. Chloride also works in the blood stream helping to carry carbon dioxide, it helps in the absorption of potassium and in digestion.

A good balance and level of salt in your body will also help with maintaining the electrolyte balance, it aids in the active absorption of nutrients in the small intestines, it helps regulate the water levels in cells, nutrient levels and waste, and it can be a great help in fighting hyperthermia. Researchers have also said that an increase in the salt intake can help fight of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Be careful not to overdo it though, as too much salt is not good for you.

The negative influence of salt

A shortage of salt is barely seen these days. Almost all food we eat contains salt, and especially processed food contain high amounts of salt. But a lack of salt can be seen sometimes in diarrhoea patients, which can cause dehydration. To deplete this shortage, you need to drink more water and consume more salt.

Too much salt in our diet is a much more common problem. And one that usually occurs without people noticing. Our body really only needs about 1 or 2 grams of salt per day, but health institutions usually advise to stay around the 6 grams. Most people, however, are closer to about 10 grams of salt per day. Luckily our body is fairly capable of handling higher amounts of salt. How much exactly depends on your kidney function and the amount of water you drink every day. An average maximum of what the body can deal with is 22 grams per day. But try not to make this a regular occurrence.

The excess of sodium will be excreted through your kidneys and into your urine. However too much sodium can cause your blood pressure to skyrocket. Not everyone has the same sensitivity to sodium though, and with some this effect will be worse than with others. If you are prone to high blood pressure try to minimise your salt intake. A decrease of sodium and a sufficient intake of chloride should help in lowering your blood pressure. But be careful with types of salt that are low in sodium but high in chloride. As too much chloride can negatively affect people with heart disease and cause arrhythmic disorders. It is best to try to minimise your salt intake, and to get your chloride from eating fruits and vegetables. Other factors in high blood pressure are obesity, smoking, not enough exercise and alcohol consumption.

Another possible effect of eating too much salt can be an increased risk for developing stomach cancer. But more research needs to be conducted before there can be any certainty surrounding these claims. The World Cancer Research Fund claims the relation between too much salt and stomach cancer is ‘probable’. It concerns an indirect effect, meaning salt would have a damaging effect on the stomach wall. This could cause infections of the stomach wall, en this will cause a higher sensitivity to particles believed to be cancerous.

Another effect of too much salt can be weak bones and teeth. If you eat too much salt, you will pee out the excess sodium together with the mineral calcium. You need calcium to build and maintain bone tissue and strength. But as long as your calcium intake is sufficient, this should not be too much of a problem.

Iodine added to salt

Nowadays a lot of manufacturers add iodine to their salt. This is to help reduce the Iodine Deficience Disorder (IDD). Because there is not a lot of iodine in other food sources, governments started making regulation in adding iodine to salt.

Our main source of iodine is fish. But many people don’t consume a lot of fish, or no fish at all, especially not a daily portion of it. Iodine is a vital mineral, and on average we were not getting enough of it. This was an easy and practical solution, and nowadays IDD is very uncommon, if not nearly extinct in the Western world. Iodine is especially important for women who are pregnant, or are trying to get pregnant. IDD can cause miscarriage, mental retardedness, brain damage in infants, and it can be harm growth and development.

Conclusion

Salt is a vital part of our diet, it is however wise to limit your salt intake. Your body only needs 1 to 2 grams of salt per day. Most health institutions advise not to exceed the amount of 6 grams per day, yet our average salt intake in the Western world is about 9 to 10 grams per day. Because salt is in almost every food source, it is easy to lose track of how much salt you eat every day. It is therefore wise to always check the labels on the food you buy, and try not to add too much salt to the food you cook at home. Read this article on how to decrease your salt intake for more tips and information.

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