Salt & Health
Everyone knows that following a healthy diet can help promote a healthy life.
But what many people don’t know is that salt plays a vital role in the functionality of our bodies and if we dramatically reduce our intake, it could be damaging.
Over recent years, a government-backed multi-million pound campaign encouraging people to cut down their salt intake gained a lot of media attention suggesting that too much salt may damage our health. Recent research suggests that consuming too little salt may actually increase the risk of heart disease. People need to know that by not getting enough, our bodies cannot function properly.
Salt and Health: The Facts
Every gram of salt is made up from 40 per cent sodium and 60 per cent chlorine and both play a vital part in keeping our bodies functioning.
Sodium allows the transmission of nerve impulses around the body and regulates the electrical charges in and out of our cells. It controls our taste and smell and helps our muscles contract, with the most important one of all- the heart.
While sodium is essential for muscle and cell functionality, chloride is essential in the digestion process. It preserves the acid balance and helps to carry carbon dioxide from tissues to the lungs.
So, what would happen if we took these vital functions away?
Well we wouldn’t feel very well. Our muscles would become weak and cramp, and we could suffer from heat exhaustion. Extremely low levels of salt can even be fatal.
So Who is at Risk?
The straightforward answer is everyone, but there are a few who could be classed as at a ‘higher risk’ if they reduce their salt intake.
Pregnant women, the elderly and those who undertake regular periods of exercise are among the ‘high risk’ groups because their bodies are under pressure.
Exercising regularly as part of a healthy lifestyle can help protect us from heart diseases and stroke, as well as keeping blood pressure constant, but as we build up a sweat we lose water and sodium from our bodies.
Drinking water before, during and after exercise can help to replace the lost water, but we need to replace the sodium as well, or we run the risk of diluting our blood plasma, which is when our health is most at risk.
Expectant mothers, especially towards the third trimester of pregnancy, can put their lives as well as the unborn child’s life at risk if the levels of salt in the body fall to a dangerous level.
The pregnant woman’s body will work hard to ensure that the unborn child has enough nutrients so that the baby is born healthy with the correct amount of nutrients needed for survival.
However, if the mother has low salt levels in her body, evidence suggests that it could cause problems with blood volume in the unborn child, not to mention the increased pressure on her body, which could cause her own blood pressure to increase.
During a heat wave in 2003, over 2,000 people died in the UK as a result of over-heating, many of whom were the elderly.
The elderly do not drink as much as younger people, so during hot weather when they sweat, they are not replacing the essential water and sodium needed to maintain a healthy body. This can lead to thickening of the blood, which increases blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.