Is Salt Really Bad for You?

Salt gets a bad rap. Like causing or worsening hypertension (aka high blood pressure).

But is salt really detrimental to your health? Do you really need to watch your salt intake? Read on, but before I get to the nitty gritty, the really surprising information that I am excited to share, we will just briefly look into some of its benefits.

Salt is commonly known for being a great flavor enhancer, and for ages has been used as a preservative. More importantly to your health, salt (NaCl) is an electrolyte with a normal range in the blood of 135-145 mEq/L. Proper salt balance is necessary for proper cell function and for life. Both hyponatremia and hypernatremia (too little or too much sodium in the blood) can be life-threatening emergencies. However, a body is usually very good at regulating this electrolyte, keeping it in a healthy balance.

Now here is the surprising thing. The American Journal of Medicine, August 2017 issue, has an amazing article on the subject of salt called, “Is Salt a Culprit or an Innocent Bystander in Hypertension? A Hypothesis Challenging the Ancient Paradigm”, (DiNicolantonio et al, 2017), which challenges the notion that excessive salt intake causes hypertension.

I, for one, was ecstatic to read this, as anyone who knows me very well would call me a saltaholic. I unabashedly admit to it, and also consider myself a salt connoisseur. I carry a saltshaker with pink Himalayan salt in my lunch bag to work every day and it is always plateside at the dinner table. When we have a family dinner one like-minded son and one like-minded son-in-law sit at my end of the table next to me so that we have easy access to our own salt and we rarely share with others. Hey, sometimes you have to be like that.

Anyway, back to the article.

The authors inform (or remind) readers that the body maintains homeostasis (balance) with certain controls such as the hypothalamus driving thirst and salt cravings. They postulate that because people are warned to limit salt intake, they inadvertently consume more food, processed foods, and junk foods to satisfy their sodium needs, and end in the eat more added sugars. They go further to suggest several more very important considerations about salt regarding your health.

  1. If one limits salt intake, they likely limit vegetables and nuts intake, which have important nutrients and calories. These are likely to be replaced by less nutritious foods too.
  2. Studies have shown that salt restriction leads to insulin resistance and an increase in insulin, which leads to fat storage, obesity, and hypertension. In fact, they think that a high salt diet can even protect one from the harmful effects of a high sugar diet by stimulating the insulin-independent glucose uptake.
  3. Studies have shown that sugar, not salt can cause increased total body water content. They point to the fact that 20 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and another 80 million are prediabetic with the problems that ensue with blood pressure, kidney function, vascular resistance, etc.

DiNicolantonio et al (2017) conclude that, “Salt restriction may actually worsen overall cardiovascular health through numerous counter-regulatory mechanisms, and may lead to other unintended consequences (insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity)”. They go on to advise that people reduce sugar and refined carbohydrate intake and not make salt intake a big issue.

My gut says go with that. FullSizeRender (3).jpg

DiNicolantonio, J., Mehta, V., & O’Keefe, J. (2017). Is salt a culprit or an innocent bystander in hypertension? A hypothesis challenging the ancient paradigm. The American Journal of Medicine, 130, 893-899.

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