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Is a low salt diet really healthy? And does salt really cause high blood pressure?

March 16, 2017

 

 

These days more and more people are dropping salt from their diet or reducing their use of salt significantly because it is believed or because we are meant to believe that salt can cause high blood pressure. Salt has also, because of this, become one of the substances that many health experts have branded bad for our health or something we should avoid.

But is this really true?

 

Let us briefly examine what salt is and what it does to the body. This article is a bit longer but I believe will help you understand the salt

 

So, what exactly is salt?

 

True salt as has been known for centuries is a compound that is mainly composed of the two elements sodium and chloride. The word mainly should be kept in mind because salt is not only sodium chloride. The fact is that all salt is about 95% sodium chloride. But the salt that has been used for the centuries also has up to 82 other naturally occurring elements that are held together with sodium and chloride in a crystalline form.

Is this the type of salt that we use today for cooking and other purposes?

 

For most people, the answer is NO.  The salt that most people use is actually a made compound that is a processed form of sodium chloride together with additives and other substances such as bleaching agents. Because salt is predominantly sodium chloride, what people are manufacturing is really something that is not in line with what real salt is actually composed of. Many people assume that all salt is simply sodium chloride. This assumption then make people believe that what is sold as table salt is therefore similar to what true salt is. But there are significant differences between the different types of salt. Salt varies depending on the source, mineral content, the form and the method of processing.

 

What many of us call and use as salt is a processed form This is usually in the form of table salt that sometimes has iodine added to it but with not much of the other minerals found in natural salt.

 

What is it that makes salt get a bad rep?

 

First of all, the type of salt most people use is processed table salt and not natural salt. This type of salt just like processed sugar is not designed like natural salt and so has 2 challenges. First it lacks many of the essential and beneficial minerals in natural salt and secondly it is processed and so the chemical and additives used to make it, mean it will have some drawbacks. This type of salt is really one of the major reasons that there is perception that salt is harmful. Even most research that is done that shows salt to be harmful is done using such salt that doesn’t have much benefit.

 

The second and more important reason is that most people have misunderstood how salt interacts with water. We shall briefly explain this later

 

So, if someone is using natural salt, Is that better?

 

Definitely Yes. For centuries salt, has always been a very valuable and beneficial compound and was used especially as a health promoting and even a healing agent. Many of you know this and do actually use salt as an antiseptic or otherwise. The truth is that salt is one of the most important substances for the body. Your body can’t do without salt. A few of the benefits of salt (and literally there are over 50 benefits of salt) include;

  • Salt is a strong antihistamine.

  • Salt is a strong anti-stress element of the body

  • Salt is vital for extracting excess acidity from inside the cells, particularly brain cells

  • Salt is vital for maintaining muscle tone and strength. Lack of bladder control in those who suffer involuntary leakage of urine could be as a result of low salt intake

  • Salt is vital for sleep regulation

  • for clearing the lungs of mucous plugs particularly in asthma and chronic lung disease

  • Salt is vital for the prevention of gout and gout arthritis

  • Salt is absolutely vital to making the structures of the bone firm as well as in reducing risk for osteoporosis

  • Salt is vital for maintaining sexuality and libido

  • Salt has also benefit in the prevention and treatment of cancer, diabetes, depression and asthma

But the salt most of us use doesn’t have many of these beneficial properties.

What is the best type of salt to use then?

 

The best type of salt to use is natural salt. This can be lake salt, rock salt or even sea salt but it must be natural salt. Not processed salt. When it comes to the best salt to use, the source, the age and the mineral content are key because many of the benefits of salt come from its large mineral content. Keep in mind the source when you buy. I particularly recommend crystalline Himalayan sea salt.

 

Is it then recommended to use salt in the diet?

 

I think that what is important to understand is that the body requires salt for normal function and a deficiency of salt in your body can have negative consequences. So, I think that salt can have a role in our diet but it should not be too much or too little. It should be just enough. If you don’t use enough salt, the body can struggle with muscle tone problems such as inability to hold urine in your bladder (without having to rush to the bathroom) when your bladder gets full. But if you have too much salt in the diet then that can also have some problems as well such as retention of fluid in the body. And this is where the concept of salt and high blood pressure comes from. You must understand the role of salt in general to understand this concept.

 

Salt and Water - what is the connection?

 

Salt and water are like brother and sister. Salt is used by the body together with potassium to regulate water content and therefore salt plays a very important role in ensuring our bodies remain adequately hydrated. It is for that reason that salt has been misunderstood to cause hypertension (high blood pressure)

 

The reason salt has been associated to and even thought to lead to high blood pressure is because salt by nature has capacity to draw water towards itself. This property of salt is used by the body to retain water.  In situations where the body has a water shortage or when the body requires more water but doesn’t have enough, salt is what is used by the body to do keep water in the body. The kidneys are the organs that regulate water balance of the body using sodium from salt and potassium. In periods of water shortage, the brain directs the kidney to retain water by using sodium that is a key component of salt. So, when sodium is found to be high, it is assumed that the sodium from the salt is the one making the sodium level go up. Although sodium from salt contributes to the sodium level, it is the kidney that must balance the sodium level.

 

Sodium is used to help keep water in the body because it senses that there is a lack of water. The process of keeping water in the body will lead to an increased amount of water in the tissue spaces between the cells, that can lead to swelling of the tissues with water (oedema) most commonly the legs. This happens to allow more water to be injected into the cells that are lacking water. In order for water to be injected into the cells, there must be an increased “injection pressure” that will allow more water to be injected into those cells. This will lead to a resultant increase in pressure in the blood vessels due to increased fluid volume. This resultant increase in pressure is what then becomes measured as high blood pressure or hypertension.

 

It is important to note that all this water retention is in response to a situation where the body needs to hold more water. This is because of water shortage. If the body has enough water the kidney would not need to use salt or sodium to hold water.  Instead it would reduce the amount of sodium.  

 

So, salt is not the problem. The problem is lack of water. If you drink a lot or just enough water, then the body will actually reduce some of the salt in the body.

The real problem is actually that salt, in the absence of enough water, can be used by the body to hold more water and cause a compensatory rise in blood pressure. As soon as you drink enough water, both the salt induced hypertension and swelling of legs will get better

But, can using salt cause problems to your health?

 

Like anything, too much can have challenges. If you consume more salt than the body needs, then it could have some challenges in terms of retention of water, but only if you use too much salt.

 

What then is enough salt?

 

According to Dr Batmanghelidj, a doctor who dedicated his life to the study of water and salt, you need about 3 grams of salt (half a teaspoon) for every 10 glasses of water or a quarter teaspoon of salt per litre. An average teaspoon has about 6 grams of salt. He advises that you should take your salt throughout the day. If you leave in a hot climate or if you sweat a lot, you may require more salt. Of course you must make sure that your kidney is able to produce urine otherwise your body could begin to retain water and swell.

What is important to understand here is that your salt content will largely depend to the extent to which your body is well hydrated.

 

My personal view is that salt intake should not be unnecessarily restricted in FEAR of health problems. It can be used as part of a healthy lifestyle but must be kept to no more than 3 grams per day but with an adequate water intake and it must be kept to natural unrefined crystalline salt. That is actually a lot of salt and you don’t need any more than that. If you are using more than that then that is too much.

 

kidneys and it would be wise to discuss your salt intake with a qualified medical practitioner with the above information on water and salt in mind.

Applications of salt in health

  • Salt for cooking and culinary purposes

Most of us use salt for cooking. I recommend that we maintain the use of natural salt as we cook but that we use it sparingly and not exceed the daily requirements of salt. While salt is necessary it can be over consumed and abused. We should try and learn to use minimal amounts of salt but not suffer through unpleasant salt less meals for the purpose of improving health.

  • Respiratory disorders

  • Salt baths

Salt baths have been known to contribute to restoration of health and healing. People have been known to get healing from bathing in salty water bodies like the dead sea

  • Salt inhalation

People with asthma and respiratory disorders can benefit greatly from using salt inhalation devices. Some can be got from our office with some guidance on how to use them.

  • Salt body care

Salt has been used in different applications that can contribute to general health even skin improvement

I encourage you to read more about the useful benefits of salt and its applications.

In conclusion, I believe that salt has a positive role to play in terms of promoting health, preventing disease and even in healing. Salt is a useful substance and its use and consumption is vital for health. A diet very low in salt is not healthy and may even be harmful. It must not be assumed to be a dangerous substance and its use should not be restricted just because the body uses it to retain water in times of water shortage, a use that can lead to beneficial compensatory hypertension.

 

Instead it must be seen as a friend to the body but it should be used in moderation (no exceeding recommended levels) to ensure pleasant meals and great health but must always be balanced with adequate water consumption to ensure adequate body fluid levels. Salt has been used throughout the ages and it should continue to be used but its use has always been and should always remain restricted to natural sea, lake or rock salt.

I recommend that everyone should use adequate amounts of natural salt in their diet but should also be able to tell if the salt levels are dropping or rising above normal levels and make corresponding adjustments. You must also always seek medical advice if you have a health problem that may affect your salt levels and water balance.

 

If you are interested in getting some crystalline Himalayan sea salt, you can get some from Wellcare. Send an email to livehealthy@wellcare.co.ug and let us know if you need some.

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