The Effects of Excess Salt on Your Body

Excess salt can alter certain parameters related to cardiovascular health if your potassium intake isn't adequate. Keep reading.
The Effects of Excess Salt on Your Body
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 24 January, 2023

Excess salt in the body can generate a series of negative effects on your health. However, the upper limit could be above what has been indicated in recent years. In fact, there’s already evidence that up to 5 grams of sodium per day could be beneficial for many people, as we’ll indicate later.

Before beginning, we must distinguish between the sea salt that we can find in the supermarket and the processed salt that the industry uses to enhance the flavor of the food it prepares. The latter’s considered especially harmful, so it would be key to review and limit your intake.

The functions of salt in the body

It’s important to understand the effects or functions of salt, or rather sodium, in the body. It’s a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure. It also participates in nervous communication and in the processes of muscular contraction.

It fulfills a role in regulating homeostasis in the internal environment and also participates in different processes and metabolic reactions. Therefore, there’s a minimum daily amount that must be consumed in order for everything to go well.

In fact, sodium loss below recommended levels is considered a serious disease, known as hyponatremia. It can have fatal consequences in the short term, as indicated by research published in the journal Frontiers of Hormone Research. To avoid this, it’s essential to compensate for the losses of electrolytes that are experienced through sweat, especially in conditions of high temperatures.

Along the same lines, the main updated dietary guidelines recommend ensuring the presence of at least 2 grams of sodium in the diet on a daily basis. In the case of athletes, this can even be increased a bit.

In this context, mineral consumption will need to be adjusted according to sweat losses and the intensity of the activity. However, to facilitate the task, electrolyte supplements can be included.

It should also be noted that when certain diseases that affect the cardiovascular system or kidneys have developed, mineral requirements may be altered. Good management of the consumption of this element can make a difference in terms of disease progression. In these cases, it’s important to strictly follow the instructions given by a healthcare professional.

The effects of too excess salt

The Link Between Potassium And Low Blood Pressure Is Strong.
Classically, arterial hypertension has been associated with a high sodium intake for years.

In general terms, it’s assumed that excess salt in the diet can increase blood pressure levels, as confirmed by research published in the journal Physiological Reports.

In any case, this will also depend on a person’s potassium intake, as both minerals exert antagonistic functions on this marker. As long as the contribution remains even, the pressure value shouldn’t be increased too much.

Even so, limiting the use of salt in the preparation of meals is recommended when there’s a history of cardiovascular disease or when it has already emerged. The most recent evidence is contradictory in this regard, but the precautionary principle continues to prevail, especially when pharmacology is used for exhaustive control of blood pressure.

But it must always be kept in mind that sodium and salt are also found in most of the foods that are frequently consumed. Therefore, there will always be a minimum intake.

After all, table salt is used as a condiment and supposes an extra intake, but it’s not the only source of dietary sodium that we must take into account. In fact, in general terms, experts recommend not exceeding 5 grams of the mineral each day.

We can find some evidence that only an intake greater than 5 grams/day could be detrimental to health and that, until then, staying at the high levels of the range could increase life expectancy. We can say that this isn’t the version most supported by the main health authorities to date, but little by little, more and more scientific articles corroborate this approach.

The problem with hyperpalatability

One of the risks of excess salt in the diet is that of food hyperpalatability, which, in turn, can lead to hyperphagia. Consuming excessively flavorful products can cause a certain atrophy in the taste buds. It could also modify the pairing of appetite and satiety, causing more calories to be eaten than are really necessary to carry out daily functions.

In the medium term, this translates into a progressive increase in subcutaneous fat tissue, which will end with an increase in inflammation levels in the internal environment and with a higher incidence of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

This is confirmed by research published in the journal Pediatric Diabetes. The relationship between the two diseases is very close, so it’s best to improve habits to avoid their appearance.

In any case, the problem of hyperpalatability isn’t only caused by an excess of table or refined salt, but also by other additives such as artificial sweeteners or monosodium glutamate.

After all, all of them aim to improve the organoleptic characteristics of ultra-processed foods to encourage greater consumption. Sometimes this is done on the health food label, so you have to be careful in regard to the marketing used on advertisements and packaging.

Actually, the best strategy to ensure an adequate intake of sodium and salt on a daily basis is the fact of prioritizing the consumption of fresh products. It’s unlikely that the salt used to season homemade preparations will exceed the recommended values. The problem comes when certain preserves or industrialized foods that contain too many additives are abused.

How to reduce salt intake?

Excess salt and fruits.
Including fresh potassium-rich foods (such as bananas or plantains) in your diet may help buffer your salt intake.

Except in the case of athletes, slightly reducing salt intake so as not to exceed 5 grams of sodium per day can be positive. With this objective, it’s best to emphasize the presence of fresh foods in the main meals, limiting the consumption of pastries, sweets, prepared meals, frozen foods… When using salt to season meals, it’s best to opt for sea salt that’s only slightly refined.

It’s also a good strategy to use iodized salt. Maintaining the levels of this mineral in adequate ranges will help prevent alterations in the functioning of the thyroid gland that can settle with changes in energy expenditure. The most common in this regard is hypothyroidism, according to a study published in the journal Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders Drug Targets.

In the case of athletes, it’s a good idea to increase the intake of sodium and other minerals, especially when it’s hot. For this, you can choose to add more salt than usual to meals.

However, what’s usually done is to include an electrolyte drink in your routine, especially in the context of endurance sports. This prevents the appearance of fatigue, cramps, and other serious disorders such as hyponatremia.

Of course, when these types of drinks are considered, it’s important to make sure that the sodium and potassium profile is adequate and that the concentration does not exceed 8% in order to avoid later gastric discomfort. You must take into account that they’re consumed during the activity, so any element that delays gastric emptying could be considered negative for the athlete’s performance.

Observe labels to avoid excessive salt intake

In order to adjust salt intake to the recommended values, it’s always advisable to review nutritional labels. Just looking at the front won’t suffice. Rather, it’s important to look closely at the nutritional value table to make sure of the exact amount of nutrients per dose or portion of the food. Sodium will always appear on the list, as this is required by current legislation. This will make it easier for you.

If you have any doubts about it, it’s best to consult a nutrition specialist. Although it’s also not good to become too restrictive with the mineral, as complex metabolic pathologies could end up developing.

In the case of elderly people with type 2 diabetes, it’s key to monitor the mineral intake and consolidate a sufficient consumption of vegetables in order to avoid complications, according to a study published in Nutrients.

Beware of excess salt in the body

An excess of salt in the body can be harmful to some populations, altering certain physiological parameters related to cardiovascular function. However, the maximum recommended value may be higher than what has been stipulated so far. Adjusting the intake of potassium will also be decisive, as this mineral has an antagonistic effect to that of sodium.

There are several aspects at the nutritional level that must be controlled to ensure a good state of health over the years. It’s not just about looking at one or two nutrients. In fact, one of the key aspects to consolidate the efficiency of physiology in the internal environment is the approach of a varied and balanced diet from the energetic point of view.

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