How Salt Affects More than Your Blood Pressure
As a heart patient, you may have heard admonishments about salt or sodium intake. Excess sodium is a leading cause of high blood pressure because at a certain level, it can no longer be processed by the kidneys. It is therefore diluted in the bloodstream – the body does so by retaining water. The increased blood volume forces the heart to pump harder. While the correlation between sodium and cardiovascular disease has not been definitively proven, we do know that high blood pressure is a leading cause of chronic and severe heart disease. However, you might be interested to know that high blood pressure is not the only serious concern as it relates to excess sodium in the bloodstream.
Chronic Kidney Disease
Excess sodium can be detrimental to the kidneys and worsen chronic kidney disease. Much like the cardiovascular system, excess sodium forces the kidneys to work overtime and can weaken them even further. Weakened kidneys, the body’s natural filter, leads to an accumulation of waste in the body and can hasten kidney failure.
Sodium can even increase the risk of certain forms of cancer. Recent research has shown that excess sodium can damage the lining of the stomach. This damage, if left untreated, increases the risk of stomach cancer in certain patients. Further the damage to the lining can worsen cases of H. Pylori – a common stomach bacteria.
Excess sodium can also cause or worsen osteoporosis. As more sodium is ingested, more calcium is expelled in the urine. Those who are predisposed to, or already have, osteoporosis risk worsening the condition, which can not only be painful, but also debilitating.
Beyond these severe consequences of excess sodium intake, there are many practical reasons to avoid excess sodium. First, excess sodium can make us feel bloated because of the water retention necessary to dilute the sodium that cannot be processed by the kidneys. This can leave us feeling tired, bloated, and literally and figuratively heavier.
Sodium also increases the risk of excess weight and obesity. A phenomenon known as head hunger, where our bodies often mistake thirst for hunger, is exacerbated because sodium makes us particularly thirsty. After a while, we may eat rather than drink more fluid to compensate.
Reducing Sodium is a Challenge, What Can We Do?
When you look at the menus of fast food, fast casual and even high-end restaurants, you will see that it’s very easy to exceed the recommended daily intake of 1500 mg of sodium. Unfortunately, the American palate has become so used to high sodium foods, anything with a normal amount of salt tastes downright boring. Further, some dishes, including soups, that you would think are very healthy, may contain upwards of 2000, 3000 or even 4000 mg of sodium. The bottom line – it’s hard to get away from sodium.
However, we often recommend that patients reduce their sodium intake significantly by cutting out fast food, checking labels on the goods they buy in the store and prioritizing fresh fruits and vegetables. Doing so has immediate health benefits in the form of reducing blood pressure and strain on the kidneys and other organs of the body. Over the long term, fresh food begins to taste better, and we realize very quickly that we do not need so much sodium in our daily lives.
Just as with any lifestyle change, reducing sodium is difficult and requires an understanding and appreciation of how it affects our bodies. While sodium is a necessary nutrient to stay healthy, excess sodium has become a hallmark of the American diet. Reducing sodium can go a long way to eliminating many of the diseases associated with high blood pressure and obesity while also enjoying what we eat.