First things first – credit goes out to Scott Abel whose work I will be often paraphrasing and quoting throughout this article.
One of the earliest verifiable saltworks in prehistoric China was in the northern province of Shanxi where salt-water Lake Yuncheng is located. The area was known for constant warfare over control of the lake. Chinese historians are certain that by 6000 B.C., each year when the lake’s water evaporated in the summer sun, people harvested the square crystals on the surface of the water. A system Chinese referred to as “dragging and gathering.” Later in our history Aristocrats served pure salt at dinner to show off their wealth. in 1776 British Forces cut off the salt supply to George Washington’s army, threatening their food supply. The word “salary” comes from the Latin word “salarium” which means “payment in salt”, hence the saying “worth one’s salt.” My point is that salt is, and always has been a precious commodity. This is not up for dispute.
Despite popular belief, unless someone has a specific and serious condition that would prevent him from taking in salt, salt intake will produce NO negative impact on their health. In fact, adequate salt intake can be health promoting. Studies out of Medical University-Polyclinic in Bonn, Germany, concluded that a low-sodium diet and the resulting lower blood volume, was more health-threatning then the hypertension that the low-sodium diet was intended to fix. The research showed that diet low in sodium may be just as likely to raise blood pressure as to lower it in people with normal blood pressure, and it may raise LDL cholesterol levels enough to increase the risk of heart disease.
Taking this little further – in healthy and active people low sodium intake and the resulting low blood volume means less oxygen and nutrients being delivered to working muscles. Consequently this allows for increased accumulation of fatigue toxins that would not otherwise occur in normal or higher blood volume environment. The end result – reduced recovery capacity and overall weakness. I hope you can begin to see why salt was of great value in times of war and when all labour was manual.
This is how you get in trouble by eliminating salt from your diet, or by keeping its intake at bare minimum.
Our bodies are regularly losing sodium through sweat and cellular activity. When there is no sodium coming in to support this cellular activity and replace sodium lost through sweat – this deficit produces negative stress response and triggers release of hormone aldosterone (hormone released in response to metabolic or physiological stress). One of the main effects of aldosterone secretion is reabsorption of sodium through the distal tubules of the kidneys. Thus sodium that normally would have left the body is retained because of the presence of this hormone. A healthy person can excrete 30 grams of sodium a day when aldosterone isn’t present – that’s a lot of sodium. And the excretion rates increase as activity level increases. In the presence of aldosterone, however, there is no sodium in the urine. Listen up folks – possible “ah ha” moment ahead. Often times I will hear the “I don’t want to get bloated so I’m trying to cut salt out of my diet” line. Water always follows sodium because sodium is positively charged while water is negatively charged. Therefore, the more sodium is excreted, the more water leaves the body. But since in the presence of aldosterone sodium is reabsorbed and kept in the body, and water follows sodium, water retention occurs. By eliminating salt out of your diet you set yourself up for the exact outcome you’re trying to avoid.
Another side of aldosterone secretion is pronounced excretion of plasma potassium. When aldosterone secretion is maximal, there is up to 50 times more potassium excreted than what is initially filtered by the kidneys. And since sodium is the chaperone for potassium delivery, potassium cannot get into the cell without it. So in a low sodium environment, not only active transport of potassium into the cell is compromised, but now the potassium is being pumped out of our bodies via urine. And potassium’s primary responsibility is? Regulation and control of skeletal and cardiac muscles. The vagus nerve, which controls heartbeat, is totally dependent on potassium. Kind of a big deal, don’t you think? Next time your nutritionist tells you to limit or eliminate sodium from your diet – reexamine their intentions and knowledge base.
Here are some take-home lessons – (1) in a low-sodium situation aldosterone hormone is released, (2) Consequently sodium is reabsorbed. (3) Because water follows sodium, water retention occurs which in turn creates osmotic imbalance. (4) Because aldosterone also produces pronounced potassium excretion, the result is further muscular weakness, cramping, performance infringement and a very flat, tired-looking physique.
The fact is, after thousands of years human biochemistry and physiology haven’t changed much – meaning our bodies’ needs for electrolytes hasn’t changed. Your well-being is highly dependent on adequate salt intake. Don’t confuse widely accepted low-sodium theories with facts. The two don’t intersect where we are led to believe they do.
Thanks for reading.