You need sodium (salt) to carry out many bodily functions, however, excessive consumption of sodium can increase the risk of certain health problems. The American Heart Association recommends people limit daily consumption to 1,500 milligrams.
As humans, sodium is a necessary part our diet. It participates in numerous cell processes such as the sodium-potassium pump, nerve and muscle function and maintaining blood pressure and volume. The amount of sodium you need to consume actually varies by age with adequate limits of 1,500 mg for up to 50 years old and decreasing as you get older. Here’s the thing – you don’t need to try to add sodium to your foods to get enough. If your diet includes processed foods, you’re getting more than enough, probably even too much sodium in your diet. Actually, if you cut all processed foods out of your diet and only ate whole foods, you would still get enough sodium in your diet.
Too much sodium in the diet can lead to various health concerns with the number one being hypertension or high blood pressure. Blood pressure rises because salt causes fluid retention in the body, which increases the pressure exerted by the blood against blood vessel walls. The process of salt raising blood pressure is natural of course, in small doses, even maintaining a normal pressure over time. In the long run, however, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, heart attack or stroke if untreated. Studies have also shown that excess salt may cause kidney damage with or without the presence of high blood pressure.
Sodium is an electrolyte that directly works with potassium, only inversely. That is to say that if your sodium levels are too high, your kidneys will trigger the excretion of potassium in order to maintain homeostasis. Low potassium can cause symptoms such as a weak or tired feeling, cramping in the extremities, constipation, heart palpitations, and abdominal pain and bloating.
Calcium works somewhat similarly to potassium in relation to the salt intake. Increased salt causes calcium to be excreted by the kidneys and if there isn’t enough in the blood to make the balance, your body takes it from its next best option – the bones. If you maintain this diet of high salt, you’re looking at a future of osteoporosis.
When we consume sodium in processed foods it comes in many different forms and combination of sodium with other minerals. Table salt, for example, is not just sodium - it’s sodium chloride. Processed foods also contain the combinations sodium benzoate and sodium phosphate as preservatives, which come with their own potentially harmful side effects.
Possible short-term side effects
- water retention
- stomach cramps
Possible long-term side effects
- increased blood pressure
- heart disease
- heart attack, stroke
- regulates cell function
- helps send nerve impulses
- needed for muscle contraction
- balances bodily fluids
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Written by Kristin Brown, DC, MS | 12-28-2015
Written by Kristin Brown, DC, MS
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