Who’s at high risk of developing health problems related to salt consumption?
- People over age 50
- People who have high or slightly elevated blood pressure
- People who have diabetes
- African Americans
What happens to my body if I eat too much sodium?
In most people, the kidneys have trouble keeping up with the excess sodium in the bloodstream. As sodium accumulates, the body holds onto water to dilute the sodium.
This increases both the amount of fluid surrounding cells and the volume of blood in the bloodstream. Increased blood volume means more work for the heart and more pressure on blood vessels.
Over time, the extra work and pressure can stiffen blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. It can also lead to heart failure.
There is also some evidence that too much salt can damage the heart, aorta, and kidneys without increasing blood pressure, and that it may be bad for bones, too.
High blood pressure is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. It accounts for two-thirds of all strokes and half of heart disease. In China, high blood pressure is the leading cause of preventable death, responsible for more than one million deaths a year.
The importance of potassium
Sodium and potassium have opposite effects on heart health: High salt intake increases blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, while high potassium intake can help relax blood vessels and excrete the sodium and decrease blood pressure.
Our bodies need far more potassium than sodium each day, but the typical US diet is just the opposite:
Americans average about 3,300 milligrams of sodium per day, about 75 percent of which comes from processed foods, while only getting about 2,900 milligrams of potassium each day.
Besides contributing to high blood pressure, consuming high amounts of sodium can also lead to stroke, heart disease, and heart failure.
Research also shows that reducing sodium lowers cardiovascular disease and death rates over the long term.
Research shows that higher intake of salt, sodium, or salty foods is linked to an increase in stomach cancer.
The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research concluded that salt, as well as salted and salty foods, are a “probable cause of stomach cancer.”
The amount of calcium that your body loses via urination increases with the amount of salt you eat. If calcium is in short supply in the blood, it can be leached out of the bones.
So, a diet high in sodium could have an additional unwanted effect—the bone-thinning disease known as osteoporosis.
A study in post-menopausal women showed that the loss of hip bone density over two years was related to the 24-hour urinary sodium excretion at the start of the study, and that the connection with bone loss was as strong as that for calcium intake.
Other studies have shown that reducing salt intake causes a positive calcium balance, suggesting that reducing salt intake could slow the loss of calcium from bone that occurs with aging.
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News source: Harvard University. The content is edited for length and style purposes.
Figure legend: This Knowridge.com image is for illustrative purposes only.