The Dangers of Low Sodium Intake

October 16, 2020 4 min read

The Dangers of Low Sodium Intake

Salt gets a bad rap.  Ask most people and they’ll tell you that keeping your sodium intake as low as possible is healthy, and many people, as they aim to optimize health, are reaching more and more for 1-ingredient foods.  If you are totally removing processed/packaged foods, there is a good chance you may actually be consuming too LITTLE salt, and that can be a problem too! 

Debunking Some Salt Myths 

Let us first state that if you have been recommended to adhere to a low-sodium diet by your doctor, the following information may not apply to you. 

TheUSDA urges Americans to consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, and the American Heart Association (AHA) has an even more strict guideline of consuming less than 1,500 mg a day for general health and disease prevention. (SOURCE).

So where did these guidelines come from? Why did ‘low-sodium’ for everyone become a thing? 

In the 1970’s, Lewis Dahl did a study which provided ‘proof’ that salt causes high blood pressure (SOURCE).  He did this by feeding rats the human equivalent of 500g of sodium a day.  That is 50x more than the average intake!  First of all, we are hoping that no one out there is consuming 500,000mg of sodium a day, but we also need to note some other studies that poke holes.  

Other research investigated this association of salt and blood pressure, and when controlling confounding variables, the correlation between blood pressure and salt intake nearly disappeared (SOURCE).  They also found numerous additional, more effective, methods to help control blood pressure levels.  

We also want to note that some studies have actually found that low sodium diets increase both LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.  In 2003, a review of studies inhealthy people saw that low sodium diets increased LDL by 4.6% and triglycerides by 5.9% (SOURCE).  These findings have also been repeated in other studies.  Even more interestingly is that these studies found that salt restriction only providedminor reductions in blood pressure.  

Sodium’s Importance in the Body 

Sodium is one of the body’s primary solvents and electrolytes.  The importance of minerals in the body, including sodium, is pretty under-rated.  For all of those high-stress, Type A individuals out there, you may need it even more than others!  Sodium is essential for stress and adrenal health.  We must have adequate intake of sodium for our adrenal glands to function properly.  Without enough sodium or potassium, we can reach what we call ‘burnout phase’ and be left to deal with extreme fatigue, no matter how much sleep and recovery we get. 

Sodium also regulates blood pressure, pH balance in the stomach, and stomach acid which is needed for proper digestion of food.  Bloating, constipation, and poor nutrient absorption are all common symptoms of low stomach acid.  The stomach is where a lot of our food is broken down and digested, but there needs to be an adequate level of HCL in the stomach to do so!  Without adequate intakes of sodium, those levels can drop, making digestion more difficult for the body and leaving you with unwanted symptoms.  

Sodium and Potassium

Sodium and potassium go together like peanut butter and jelly.  They are two primary electrolytes in the body and work together in a lot of ways.  Most importantly, they help maintain fluid balance in cells, blood plasma, and extracellular fluid.  They both need each other - potassium is found primarilyinside of cells, and sodium is the main electrolyteoutside of cells in extracellular fluid.  

Sodium can actually impact the ability to retain potassium within the cells, which is where mineral loss can start, and mineral loss leads to things such as hormonal imbalances and thyroid dysfunction.  This is because potassium makes our cells sensitive to thyroid hormones, and in turn, low levels of potassium negatively impact thyroid function.  

Humans actually evolved on a very high-potassium diet, full of plant foods, and our kidneys are well adapted to excrete excess intakes of this mineral through our urine, so you don’t have to be too concerned with taking in too much potassium!  

This is why our  HYDRATE product includes BOTH potassium and sodium, because we know how important they are to each other and the body! 

Endurance Athletes

Now if you are an endurance athlete, running/biking/swimming long distances, restricting salt can be particularly problematic.  It is sadly common for endurance athletes to develop low blood sodium, or hyponatremia, even without cognitive symptoms like attention deficit.  For example, a study from the 2002 Boston Marathon found that 13% of 488 runners studied had hyponatremia, and other studies have reported the incidence to be up to 29% (SOURCE).  

So if you are endurance training, it can be helpful to have a sweat sodium test done to see how quickly you are losing sodium as you sweat/train to stay ahead of it!  

And for those that are not training long endurance, or completing lots of high intensity workouts, sodium is still important and necessary!  Like we’ve discussed, it can help with absorption of nutrients and minerals, it assists in digestion, and it can help us manage stress! 

If you are eating a very ‘clean’ diet consisting of 1-ingredient foods, you can actually be under-consuming sodium quite easily.  That is partly why we developed  HYDRATE - we want to ensure that not only are you able to make your water tasty, but you are keeping adequate sodium, potassium, and amino acids levels within the body!  

Just remember - salt isn’t the bad guy.  As long as we are keeping a proper balance of electrolytes, and getting in adequate amounts of sodium along with quality food sources, sodium levels are nothing to be afraid of!

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