• Lessons About Salt and Health

    Posted August 13, 2018: by Bill Sardi

    The Idea Salt Is/Isn’t Bad For Your Health Depends On What Your Definition of Is Is.

    Do you find yourself reaching for the saltshaker and then deciding not to salt your food because scientific reports say not to?

    Join the confused.

    New US health guidelines say more than 3/4ths of a teaspoon of salt increases your risk for a heart attack.  But recall for decades health authorities told the public elevated circulating cholesterol levels raised the risk for a heart attack and you will die if you don’t take statin cholesterol-lowering drugs, but that elevated risk was just 3% and that was for non-mortal heart attacks only.

    So should we salt our foods?  Well, one thing I found out was that zinc-deficient individuals lose the sense of taste and have to add salt to everything.  So my first piece of advice is, if you crave salty foods you should supplement with zinc.

    But let’s get back to answering the question how much salt can be consumed without increasing your risk for high blood pressure.  Now recall, salt helps our body to retain water, which is why we are advised to take salt tablets when sweating profusely. On the other side of the equation, if the heart has to pump more fluid, blood pressure rises.  Fortunately, if we over-hydrate we will be running to the bathroom to urinate, which keeps fluid balance under control.

    Now before you even salt your food, most prepared and canned foods already have salt added.  Americans consume ~4000 milligrams (4 grams) of salt per day without even trying and food purveyors, vying for your taste buds to get you to eat more of their products, add sodium, especially to bland foods like peas and beans.

    So the latest news headline now says it is OK to salt your foods.  Well, that needs a little explaining.  What the latest study says is health risks increase at 5000 milligrams of sodium per day and above.  At 7000 milligrams a day health risks really rise.

    But get this: if salt intake drops below 3000 milligrams a day there is an increased risk of cardiovascular events and mortality in people with or without hypertension!

    So now the public learns something new.  Salt is not as bad as previously thought and too low sodium intake is a problem just as much as too much salt is a problem.

    In fact excessively low salt diet damages the heart by increasing heart rate and elevating adrenal and kidney hormones (renin, angiotensin, aldosterone, adrenaline).

    Actually a lot of people may be inappropriately placed on angiotensin converting enzyme inhibiting drugs (ACE inhibitors like enalapril or lisinopril  — brand names Vasotex or Prinivil) when they may just need to increase their intake of sodium.

    Oh, and there is another drawback of ACE inhibitors – they deplete the body of zinc.  So now we are back to craving salty foods again.  Modern medicine can really get us trapped in a vicious circle.

    Now let’s say we really choose to get serious about our health and decide to eat a calorie restricted diet (one meal a day), a sparse calorie diet having been shown to double the lifespan and healthspan of lab animals.  If we combine a limited calorie diet with low salt intake we may increase an adrenal hormone (aldosterone) and lose control of our fluid balance, which can result in high blood pressure.

    There is yet another important lesson to learn about salt.  The lesson is that sodium must be balanced with potassium. Americans consume about 4000 mg of sodium per day and just ~2000 mg of potassium.  A higher sodium-over-potassium ratio is associated with a higher risk of stroke (brain damage from hemorrhage due to excess blood pressure).  In fact the sodium-to-potassium ratio appears to be more strongly associated with blood pressure outcomes than either sodium or potassium alone in hypertensive adult populations.

    According to a 2004 Institute of Medicine report, adults are advised to consume at least 4700 milligrams (4.7 grams) of potassium each day in order to lower blood pressure. This level of consumption, they say, will diminish the effects of salt and reduce kidney stone risk as well

    It is impossible to augment the American diet with potassium supplements because some time ago the Food & Drug Administration, covering for problematic potassium-sparing diuretics that killed people, blamed potassium supplements on the problem.  So it is now forbidden for manufacturers to make anything more than a 99 mg potassium pill.  So you have to eat a lot of apricots, avocados, spinach, pomegranate seeds, squash, sweet potatoes, bananas and yogurt to make up for the shortage.  Some of these foods are big-time carbohydrates that pose other health problems.  So be aware.

    These are you lessons about salt today.  Class dismissed.

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