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Salt, or sodium chloride is widely known as unhealthy. We are being told to lower its intake to minimum level. Happily, it is impossible to reduce it to zero. If you’re truly serious about your health, take that advice with a pinch of salt. After all, salt is really important nutrient, and reducing sodium intake can have unintended health risks.

Negative impact of salt

Increased salt intake is correlated with stomach cancer, osteoporosis, obesity, nephrolithiasis and many others, but what is most important, it causes our bodies to retain water, which leads to cardiovascular diseases. It is told to be the reason of heart attacks and strokes, therefore – premature death or disability. All this is due to the action of sodium, which is necessary for our lives, but also may be harmful in excess. If it’s too much of it in our bodies, kidneys are unable to excrete it, so it accumulates in the blood, increasing its volume (because of water retention). Too much blood forces our hearts to work harder to pump it. This is the direct reason of increasing pressure in the blood vessels – the primary risk factor for heart diseases.

Therefore WHO is recommending to reduce salt intake to approximately one teaspoon (5 grams) a day (2 grams of sodium equivalent). Similarly GDA recommends up to 6 grams per day. But is it really necessary?

First reports about the need of reducing salt intake come from France, where one of the doctors, more than 100 years ago, found that some of his patients with high blood pressure like to eat salty meals. This topic was once again raised in 1970, with the publication of „irrefutable” evidence that salt is the reason of high blood pressure – the experiment, where rats were fed with lots of salt (to be more specific: equivalent of 500 grams of sodium per day for a human. That amount of salt (sodium) was connected with the disease, but comparing it to recent data, where average Pole eats less than 5 grams of sodium daily (12 grams of salt), the experiment seems “a bit” overdrawn. Still, the topic has become popular, and further studies led to obtaining similar, more or less clear conclusions.

Really?

Nature abhors a vaccum. Science also. Hence, these days it is becoming more popular to deny earlier researches. The amount of articles showing the opposite thesis is still increasing. We can read, that if we don’t have hypertension, we don’t have (or maybe we shouldn’t) decrease salt intake. All this begun in 2011, with the Cochrane review, suggesting that the less salt we eat, the bigger death probability we have. These, and similar studies are however being subjected to a serious criticism.

It should be noted, that our bodies are unable to work properly without salt, or, to be more specific – sodium. It’s also worth remembering, that table salt is our primary source of iodine, essential for the thyroid. Although reducing its level could help lowering blood pressure, it can also be the reason of some serious health problems.  Various studies indicated that avoiding salt may lead to raising „bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, insulin resistance, which is might further be the reason of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Paracelsus said: everything is poisonous and nothing is poisonous - it is all a matter of dose. There are no clear evidences for impact of reducing salt intake on increasing life quality or decreasing mortality for these without tendency to hypertension or sodium hypersensitivity. Hence, unless your doctor tells you something else – enjoy the taste of food with salt.

Samanta Makurat

Chemistry student at the University of Gdańsk, fascinated with molecular modeling. Nature enthusiast.

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