You may be one of the lucky ones who can consume all the salty snack foods you want and still maintain a normal blood pressure. However according to a research study, maybe you’re not as lucky as you think. A high salt intake may not be causing your blood pressure to rise but it may still damage your blood vessels, heart, kidneys, and brain.
According to scientists at the University of Delaware, a 2015 review of the evidence of salt and health, found that a high salt intake may impair the endothelium (the inner lining of blood vessels involved in blood clotting and immune function), increase arterial stiffness (hardening of the arteries), weakens heart and kidney function, and interfere with the sympathetic nervous system (the “flight-or-fight” response). All of this could happen even in the absence of high blood pressure.
Balancing sodium intake
Sodium is a necessary and essential mineral our bodies need for fluid balance and cellular homeostasis. It is mainly found in body fluids playing a major role in maintaining blood volume and blood pressure by attracting and holding water. It has been known that the amount of sodium needed to maintain homeostasis in adults is quite low (<500 milligrams a day) compared with the average intake of most Americans (>3,400 milligrams a day).
Some people are what they call “salt-sensitive” meaning that if they consume a high amount of sodium through their food choices their blood pressure rises but when they reduce their sodium intake, their blood pressure decreases. Individuals who are considered salt resistant are those who have no change in blood pressure even with a salt restriction.
The research points to evidence that even for people who are salt resistant they can possibly have adverse effects on multiple organs when consuming a high sodium diet.
Specific effects on body organs
The harmful effects of sodium on body organs are quite alarming.
A high dietary sodium intake effect on the heart can lead to left ventricular hypertrophy or enlargement of the muscle tissue making up the wall of the heart’s main pumping chamber. This causes the walls of the chamber to grow thicker, becoming less compliant to where they are unable to pump as forcefully like a healthy heart should.
The kidneys experience reduced renal function when dietary sodium is increased.
The sympathetic nervous system is affected by chronically elevated sodium to where it causes a greater response to a variety of stimuli, including skeletal muscle contraction.
Shaking the salt habit
Approximately 75% of sodium in our diet comes from what is put in our processed foods like breads or just about anything boxed or canned. Another significant source of sodium comes from what restaurants use in their menu items. The amount of salt we use in our preparation of food at home or at the table contributes much less.
What influences the large amount of sodium in our processed foods is market forces. When food processors have marketed low-sodium alternatives, the success of them is low.
The American Heart Association recommendation in regards to sodium intake is to consume less than 1,500 milligrams a day. This has been met with criticism of being too low for good health and too unrealistic to follow. A more reasonable and realistic approach is the recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that Americans should limit daily sodium consumption between 1,500 to an upper safe limit of 2,300 milligrams.
The study did recommend a number of approaches that could be implemented to help reduce dietary sodium:
· A gradual decrease in the sodium content of foods by food manufacturers
· A switch on the part of consumers from high-sodium to low-sodium foods by avoiding processed foods and reading food labels
· A switch to salt substitutes
· Food manufacturers could engineer approaches to provide salty taste with less sodium or food processing with less sodium.