Water is essential for life. It’s critical for regulating body temperature, preventing constipation, flushing out waste and toxins, and performing all major bodily functions. As with all essential inputs, there is such as a thing as too little or too much. Interestingly, water and sodium go hand in hand. Our bodies require both in a proper balance. Like water, sodium is essential which means it must be consumed to have it. Sodium is an electrolyte that helps regulate the amount of water that’s in and around cells
Even though sodium is in meat and vegetables, our primary source for it is salt. Salt is a chemical compound composed of two minerals paired together--sodium and chloride (NaCl). Salt is called an ionic compound which means the ions are held together by electrostatic forces termed ionic bonding. Sodium atoms weigh less than chloride atoms therefore 100 grams (g) of NaCl contain 39.34 g Na and 60.66 g Cl.
When we consume salt, we are ingesting two elements. Did you know that chloride is also essential for life? We’ll get back to chloride momentarily. But first there’s more we need to know about water and sodium.
We are all familiar with the war on salt. Sodium is supposed to cause hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure. Is it the sodium that does that or is it the chloride? Since most Americans get most of their salt from processed foods, could it be that sugar in processed foods has more influence on blood pressure and hardening of the arteries than salt? The debate ranges on.
This year’s long hot summer has come with many warnings about proper hydration. This encourages the habit most Americans have for carrying around bottled water. Consequently dehydration may be less of an issue than drinking too much water too fast. Too much water dilutes the level of sodium in the blood. When the sodium level drops too low, that creates a condition known as hyponatremia (water intoxication) which is very serious and can be fatal. People on restricted salt diets can be more prone to hyponatremia.
According to the Mayo Clinic, hyponatremia signs and symptoms may include:
● Nausea and vomiting
● Loss of energy, drowsiness and fatigue
● Restlessness and irritability
● Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps
The best gauge for proper hydration is thirst and the color of your urine. The Mayo Clinic says that “If you're not thirsty and your urine is pale yellow, you are likely getting enough water.” The question then is how much sodium. The daily minimum necessary to maintain life is around 500 mg or 0.5 g. The American Heart Association recommends 1.5 g daily. The average American consumes over 3.0 g. Confusing the issue is recent data on 100,000 patients indicating that sodium intake between 3.0 g and 6.0 g daily is associated with a lower risk of death and cardiovascular events compared to either a higher or lower level of consumption. Ten grams (1.75 teaspoons) of refined salt provides 4.0 g of sodium.
Chloride, not to be confused with chlorine gas, is the body’s primary negatively charged ion and as such serves as one of the main electrolytes. When dissolved in bodily water potassium, another essential element, sodium, and chloride assist in the conduction of electrical impulses. Without chloride, the human body would not be able to maintain fluids in blood vessels, conduct nerve transmissions, move muscles, or maintain proper kidney function. The recommended daily intake of chloride ranges from 750 to 900 mg per day. It’s estimated that the average person loses close to 530 mg per day.
What kind of salt is best? This is a hotly debated issue in the health food community. It’s almost universally believed that sea salt is best because usually table salt has additives. Yet refined NaCl salt that doesn’t have additives (iodine and anticaking agents) is available. Unrefined sea salts range from 84% to 98% NaCl content. The remaining fraction consists of “unknown” minerals that can be called impurities. Some sea salts may even contain minuscule amounts of harmful substances like aluminum, lead, and mercury. Dan Wich, at toxicless.com, says it’s highly likely that a diet of nutrient dense and diverse foods probably provides adequate minerals. Therefore, adding in the many additional minerals from sea salt may be a potential concern.
The human body, like most animal bodies, has the same salinity as seawater. This means a 110-pound person has about 40 teaspoons of NaCl in their system and a 160-pound person has about 58 teaspoons. Healthy bodies strictly regulate salinity levels. This was proven by Dr. Jens Titze and his team at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany when they studied men participating in a simulated space flight program. The men were given 12 g of salt per day, 9 g per day, or 6 g per day. No matter how much or how little salt was given out, the sodium levels of the participants remained the same.
This makes me think about the origins of life.
To your health.
Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.
Don’t miss these links for additional reading:
The History of the Salt Wars by James J. DiNicolantonio, PharmD, James H. O’Keefe, MD
The Wrong White Crystals: Not Salt but Sugar as Aetiological in Hypertension and Cardiometabolic Disease by James J DiNicolantonio, Sean C Lucan
Dr. James DiNicolantonio’s book on Amazon
The Salt Fix: Why the Experts Got It All Wrong--and How Eating More Might Save Your Life by Dr. James DiNicolantonio
Vascular Effects of Dietary Salt by David G. Edwards and William B. Farquhar
Sodium Chloride from Wikipedia
Table Salt from Wikipedia
Anticaking Agent from Wikipedia
Salts (Table or Cooking) with the Fewest Additives by: Dan Wich
Hyponatremia from the Mayo Clinic
Are There Any Foods That Are Naturally Salty? by Krista Sheehan
How the Body Regulates Salt Levels from National Institutes of Health
It All Began in the Sea . . . by Ted Slanker