The typical American diet tends to be high in sodium, with many processed foods containing high amounts of salt for flavoring and preservation. Even though sodium has a bad reputation, salt in certain amounts is necessary for the body to function properly. Here’s a deeper look at how sodium can be beneficial and how it can be harmful.
Sodium is one of the body’s three major electrolytes, with potassium and chloride being the others. Salt helps regulate blood pressure and blood volume, transmit impulses for nerve function and muscle contraction, and helps regulate the acid-base balance of blood and bodily fluids. According to SFGate’s Healthy Eating, salt can help with healthy muscle contractions and promotes muscle function during physical activity.
The Rush University Medical Center explains that sodium also regulates body heat. The hypothalamus, the body’s “thermostat,” signals the middle layer of the skin to bring salt and water to the skin’s surface when a person is overheating (sweating) to help cool the body.
One of the reasons why sodium is vilified is that too much can lead to hypertension, better known as high blood pressure. According to research by the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension program, directed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, there is a direct correlation between the amount of salt consumed and blood pressure levels. Exceeding the 2,400 mg daily limit can push blood pressure into dangerous territory. Some doctors suggest ideal sodium intake should not exceed 1,500 mg daily.
Too much sodium also can contribute to fluid retention in the body, leading to swelling of the legs and feet, a problem for individuals who are not physically active.
The kidneys are the filters of the body, and people with kidney disease could be especially vulnerable to adverse health consequences if they consume too much salt. In such situations, the kidneys may not be able to eliminate the excess sodium in the body, potentially leading to hypertension or heart issues, according to Davita Kidney Care. Also, too much salt may contribute to the formation of kidney stones.
Sodium is necessary for life, but overconsumption may lead to health issues that are entirely preventable.