How Excess Sodium Has Exploded Into a Pandemic With Far-Reaching Consequences

If we don’t stop now, there is no telling how severe it might become.

Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash

Sodium is something that we all take for granted. We add it to our food for flavor & texture in the form of salt (40% sodium / 60% chloride) and salt acts as a preservative.

Sodium is an essential nutrient for the human body. It plays an important role in muscle and nerve function, water and fluid balance, and control of blood pressure and volume.

However, there is always a balance to everything, and it seems like we have started consuming way too much sodium in our diet.

The average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium every day while 181 countries in the world (representing 99.2% of the world adult population) had national intakes of sodium exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of less than 2 grams of sodium per day.

Here are some ways excessive sodium consumption profoundly affects the body:

It can lead to high blood pressure and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

It is well known that excessive sodium consumption can increase blood pressure, and this is because sodium causes the body to retain water.

In other words, the body starts to retain water to wash away the extra sodium and this extra water increases blood volume.

High blood volume leads to increased blood pressure, which is mainly because the heart has to work harder to pump.

A harder working heart + an increase in blood pressure = Extra stress on the blood vessels

Over time, this stress damages blood vessels and they become less elastic, which can eventually decrease blood flow to major organs and tissues in the body such as the heart.

This can lead to atherosclerosis (buildup of plaque alongside arterial walls) which can cause a heart attack and stroke.

One research showed that reducing sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day can reduce cases of high blood pressure by 11 million annually.

It can increase weight gain, thus increasing the risk of obesity.

This is most commonly because sodium causes the body to conserve water and this fluid retention may increase your weight.

However, food that is high in sodium is also most often high in calories.

Fried food, fast food, junk food, etc. are all high in sodium and calories.

Excessive intake of this food can increase calorie count and thus significantly increase the risk that those calories result in increased weight.

A 1-gram per day increase in sodium intake was associated with a 28% increased risk of obesity in children and a 26% increased risk in adults.

It could lead to impaired kidney function and eventually kidney disease.

A higher than normal sodium intake over long periods of time can cause the kidneys to have reduced function, which will lead to less water excretion resulting in high blood pressure.

This high blood pressure puts a strain on the kidneys and can eventually lead to kidney disease.

Not only that, but a high sodium diet can lead to the formation of kidney stones

The most common type of stone is the calcium oxalate stone and it’s formed when oxalate, which is a byproduct of some foods, binds with calcium when urine is being formed.

Oxalate and calcium can rise due to a high protein or sodium diet.

Specifically, a high sodium diet causes calcium to build up in the urine and this can encourage the formation of these kidney stones.

By the way, you never want to experience kidney stone pain because it is EXTREMELY painful. In fact, it ranks as one of the worst pains any person can experience.

The pain starts when the stone reaches the ureter and the pain becomes very severe on one side of the back and results in nausea and vomiting.

Every year, more than half a million people go to the ER for kidney stones.

It’s best to start consuming less sodium in order to mostly prevent these types of incidents.

It can weaken your bones and lead to osteoporosis.

Not that many people really understand the relationship between high sodium intake and weak bones, but here is how it works.

A high sodium intake increases the amount of calcium that is lost from the body and gets dumped into the urine.

As stated before in the previous section, when calcium gets high in the urine, it can lead to the formation of kidney stones.

99% of calcium is stored in bones so this calcium that is being taken away comes from the bones and everyone knows that calcium is required to build strong and healthy bones.

A study calculated that reducing salt intake from 10 g/day to 5 g/day can have the same effect on hip bone density as an increase in calcium intake of 1000 mg/day which is coincidentally the amount of calcium you need every day.

Takeaways

One study estimated that 1.65 million deaths a year can be attributed to excess sodium intake.

Excess salt is the new pandemic that not too many people know about and it is wreaking havoc on our daily lives.

With all of this bad talk about sodium, you might be inclined to think any sodium is bad, but that’s not the case.

Sodium is an essential nutrient that is required by the body to maintain body fluids and keep muscles and nerves healthy and functioning.

However, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that sodium intake be limited to less than 2,300 mg per day but the ideal sodium intake is less than 1,500 mg per day.

Contrary to popular belief, 70% of the sodium in our diet comes from consuming prepared and packaged foods while the rest is from table salt.

Because of this, many foods that we consume on a daily or regular basis might be high in sodium and we might not even know about it.

In fact, the CDC says that over 40% of the sodium we consume daily comes from only 10 types of food.

These top 10 sources of sodium are:

  • Cold & cured meats
  • Soups
  • Burritos & tacos
  • Chicken
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Pizza & sandwiches
  • Breads
  • Snacks such as chips, popcorn, and pretzels

In fact, a single slice of pizza can contain anywhere from 600 to 1500 mg of sodium while a single hotdog can have 800 mg which makes it very easy to surpass the 2,300 mg limit.

Salt is everywhere we look, and it’s up to us to start making dietary changes now to decrease our sodium intake and improve our lives for the better.

Homework assignment: Take a look at the foods you consume every day and tally up the amount of sodium in these foods to get a rough estimate of your sodium intake.

If it’s over 2,300 mg (which it probably will be), then you need to reduce your intake of those foods and increase your intake of healthy fruits and vegetables.

Good luck!

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Samir S.

Samir S.

Writing to Inform, Educate, & Teach | Obsessed with Health & Wellness | https://samir-s.medium.com/subscribe