Risks of Excessive Salt Consumption

Salt is unarguably one of the most common and essential components in our daily diet, and every time I think about salt, it reminds me of a roman statement, “Trust no one unless you have eaten much salt with him.” True, and going with the custom, we all would agree to it. However, a very significant question is, how judicious is placing one’s trust on the salt?
Salt, also known as sodium chloride is about 40 percent sodium. It gives the food its flavor and also acts as a preservative. In our body, it has an important role in conducting nerve impulses, in contraction and relaxation of muscles, regulation of blood pressure and maintaining body’s fluid and mineral balance.

Only a small amount of sodium is needed to stay healthy and fit.  However, since its main source i.e. the common salt, is the most common ingredient in diet across the world, we end up consuming excess amounts making it risky.

Risks of excessive sodium intake:

Elevates blood pressure:
Excessive salt intake is linked to increased blood volume and pressure. Consistently elevated blood pressure may result in the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Ventricular hypertrophy and heart failure:
Excessive intake of sodium results in increased blood volume, which makes the heart work harder, thereby making it enlarged and weak. High sodium diet is also associated with developing left ventricular hypertrophy, increasing the risk of heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases.

Elevated sodium levels may lead to loss of calcium from the bones. Bones with reduced calcium deposits eventually become weak, brittle and prone to fractures and physical injuries. Elevated blood pressure makes the condition even worse. The problem is of greater concern among the elderly people as their bones naturally become thinner with age.

Cellular dehydration and edema:
Excess salt forces the fluid to filter out of the cells and vessels that eventually get trapped in the tissues. This causes dehydration and makes you feel extremely thirsty. In such situation, the dehydration persists even after sufficient water intake as all of it eventually leaks into the tissues. This further leads to swelling especially in feet, ankles, and legs and is known as edema. In extreme cases the fluid may get accumulated in vital organs like lungs, making it difficult for them to function normally.

Kidney stones:
Excess sodium and calcium get concentrated in the urine for excretion. This results in an extra burden on the kidneys by increasing its filtration load. Regular consumption of high sodium food is found to be directly associated with the development of kidney stones and significantly increases the risk of developing renal diseases and failure.

Electrolyte and hormonal imbalance:
Excessive sodium has an effect on the electrolyte balance and the hormones. Increased sodium load sometimes causes symptoms like dizziness and muscle cramps by hindering the nerve impulses.

Stomach cancer:
Continuous consumption of salt in high concentration damages the internal lining of the stomach, making it exposed to the effects of a harmful bacterium called H. Pylori. Not only does the salt increase the risk of direct exposure to H. pylori, it also provides suitable conditions to the bacterium to flourish and cause further damage. This leads to inflammation and if not controlled, may cause stomach ulcers that can further develop into cancer.

What is the ideal sodium intake level, which will keep us safe from such health concerns?  A hale and hearty adult with a healthy lifestyle can consume between 1500 to 2300 milligrams of sodium per day. This would be approximately 6 grams or 1 teaspoon of common salt. People with high blood pressure and other conditions like congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, diabetes and kidney failure need to limit their sodium intake to values lower than 1500 milligrams, depending on their doctor’s recommendations.

It is important to note that limiting salt intake alone may not be sufficient. Many naturally occurring foods like fruits, vegetables, and even milk contain some amount of sodium. However, the main source of sodium in present day diet is the packed and preserved food, which may contribute up to 80 percent of total sodium intake. It is, therefore, important to adopt an all-around strategy to limit the intake of sodium and stay fit. But at the same time, one must remember that small amount of sodium is important to keep us healthy and active.

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