There are more reasons to avoid excess salt besides lowering blood pressure. Too much sodium may raise your risk for cancer, stroke, heart attacks, and dementia.
If you reach for the saltshaker every time you sit down to eat, love salty snacks, or indulge in takeout and processed food often, the odds are great you’re consuming excessive amounts of sodium chloride (the scientific term for dietary salt). And you aren’t alone. The American Heart Association (AHA) points out nine out of 10 Americans eat too much salt, potentially raising the risk for a host of health problems.
“The best-known effect of sodium on health is the relationship between sodium and blood pressure,” explains Catherine M. Loria, PhD, a researcher in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Division of Cardiovascular Sciences.
In fact, a diagnosis of high blood pressure or pre-hypertension (meaning you are close to being in hypertension territory) is almost always accompanied by medical advice to dramatically cut back on salt.
While it’s important to understand salt’s link to high blood pressure, you have more reasons to avoid excess salt. Researchers have found links between high-sodium diets and cancer, heart problems, weak bones, kidney disease, headaches, osteoporosis, and even dementia.
Let’s shake out salt facts
Salt is not some kind of health-robbing poison, at least, not in the amounts the body needs. Salt is essential to maintaining your body’s normal body fluids, possibly explaining why humans evolved to like the taste of salt in food, according to the National Institutes of Health.
What’s more, not everyone is susceptible to salt’s blood pressure raising abilities,although many are (and, if you have high blood pressure, you should work with your doctor to reduce dietary salt to see if it helps). There are a few medical conditions that may require a low sodium diet along with monitoring and treatment.
For the vast majority of people, however, excess sodium is an important factor in the high rates of high blood pressure in the U.S. And hypertension is connected to the leading causes of death in Americans, heart disease and stroke, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out.
One in three adults in America have hypertension; another one third have pre-hypertension. Excess salt doesn’t only affect the blood pressure of adults. Children who eat salty foods are twice as likely to develop high blood pressure as youngers who have low-sodium meals, according to the CDC.
Avoid excess salt to protect your health
The AHA recommends 1,500 milligrams or less of sodium a day for heart health and, potentially, to protect against other sodium-linked health conditions. However, on average, Americans consume much more — about 3,400 milligrams of salt daily.
In addition to hypertension, the AHA points out too much salt is also associated with raising the risk for, or worsening, these health conditions:
- Heart failure
- Stomach cancer
- Kidney disease
- Kidney stones
- Cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart muscle)
Too much sodium can also cause edema (increased water retention), which can:
- Make you uncomfortable in your clothes
- Puff up your facial features, feet, and ankles
- Bloat your stomach
- Put extra pounds of “water weight” on the scales
Another reason to avoid excess salt: Save your brain
Research has mounted over the past few years that unhealthy dietary habits and cardiovascular disease risks may promote both Alzheimer’s disease and other types of cognitive impairment. One explanation is that hypertension, which can be caused or exacerbated by eating a too salty diet, can contribute to heart disease and stroke, which may, in turn, harm the brain.
A research team, headed by Weill Cornell Medicine Feil Family Brain & Mind Research Institute neuroscientist Giuseppe Faraco, MD, PhD, previously found evidence a high-salt diet is associated with an increased risk of dementia even when high blood pressure is controlled, likely because excess sodium intake may cause damage to blood vessels and reduce blood flow within the brain.
Findings presented by Faraco and his team at the American Neurological Association 2019 Annual Meeting and published in the journal Nature, show excess salt also increases Tau tangles — clumps of Tau proteins in the brain, which occur in several forms of dementia and are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease.
Although the research was in animals, the investigators concluded their results strengthens evidence that avoiding excessive salt may protect both vascular brain health and thinking abilities.
Bottom line? Eating healthy means keeping salt under control
Making an effort to avoid excess salt involves cutting back how much you add to cooking and meals. Avoiding pre-packaged and take-out foods can also go far in reducing excess sodium. Concentrating on eating meals rich in vegetables and fruits, with no added salt, is the best strategy for overall health.
Reading labels is also crucial to avoid excess salt in your diet. The AHA advises checking the nutrition facts label, which lists the amount of sodium per serving in milligrams (mg).
Very low sodium is 35 mg or less per serving; low sodium is 140 mg or less per serving. “Reduced (or less) sodium” indicates the food contains at least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level.
December 24, 2019