Salt: Is It Good Or Bad For You?

Over the last few decades salt has earned a bad name and has been linked to conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stomach cancer.

We now know that salt is essential for our health, and in many cases reducing salt does NOT increase life span or reduce the chance of a heart attack.

This article will examine the research and determine if salt is actually bad for you.

Salt plays an important role in the Body

Salt is also known as sodium-chloride. It’s a compound that contains about 40% sodium and 60% chlorine, two minerals that are important for your health.

The body regulates sodium levels and fluctuations can lead to side effects.

Sodium is involved with muscle contractions. Losses through fluid or sweat can cause muscle cramps in athletes.

It maintains nerve function and regulates blood volume and pressure tightly.

Chloride is, however, the second most common electrolyte after sodium.

Electrolytes are atoms in bodily fluids that have an electrical charge. They are vital to everything, from fluid balance to nerve impulses.

Low levels of chloride may lead to respiratory acidosis, which is a condition in which carbon dioxide builds-up in the blood. This causes the blood to become more acidic.

Both of these minerals are vital, but research has shown that people may react differently to sodium.

Many people are not likely to be affected by high-salt eating, but others might experience high blood pressure and bloating due to increased sodium intake.

These effects can be severe and people who suffer from them may need to watch their sodium intake.

One Study Associates High Salt Intake With Stomach Cancer

Evidence suggests that an increase in salt intake may be associated with a higher risk of developing stomach cancer.

It may also increase the growth of Helicobacter Pylori, which is a type bacteria that has a higher chance of developing stomach cancer.

A 2011 study that included over 1000 participants found that higher salt intake was linked to a higher risk for stomach cancer.

A large study with 268,718 participants revealed that people who eat a lot of salt have a 68% greater risk of developing stomach cancer.

These studies do not prove a link between high salt intake and stomach cancer. It is still unclear if a high-salt diet contributes to stomach cancer development.

The Link Between Blood Pressure And Salt Intake

High blood pressure is a risk factor for developing heart disease. It can put extra strain on your heart.

Numerous large-scale studies have shown that low-salt eating habits may lower blood pressure, particularly in people with high blood pressure.

A review of 3,230 participants revealed that a moderate decrease in salt intake led to a slight decrease in blood pressure. This average drop was 4.18 mmHg in systolic and 2.06 in diastolic.

It reduced blood pressure for both normal and high blood pressures, but it was more effective for high blood pressure.

Salt reduction did not decrease systolic blood Pressure by 2.42 mmHg or diastolic by 1.00mmHg for people with normal blood pressure.

Another large study found similar results, noting that a lower salt intake leads to a drop in blood pressure, particularly in high blood pressure patients.

Remember that salt can affect blood pressure in certain people.

Salt-sensitive people are more likely than others to experience a drop in blood pressure when they eat low-salt foods. Normal blood pressure might not notice much.

As discussed below, however, it is not clear how beneficial this decrease in blood pressure might be. 

Low salt intake may not reduce the risk of heart disease or death

Studies have shown that a lower-salt diet does not reduce the risk of dying from heart disease.

Seven studies were reviewed in a large review that concluded salt reduction did not reduce the risk of death or heart disease.

A second review of over 7,000 participants found that reducing salt intake did little to reduce the risk of death.

For certain groups, however, the effects of salt on heart disease and death risk may be different.

One large study, for example, showed that low-salt eating was associated with lower mortality rates in overweight people.

Another study found that people with heart disease were at greater risk of death if they eat low-salt foods.

Further research is required to understand how decreasing salt intake might affect different populations.

It is safe to say, however, that salt intake reduction does not necessarily lower the risk of death or heart disease for everyone.

Low salt intake can have negative side effects

A high salt intake can be linked to many conditions. However, it is possible to have side effects from a low salt diet.

Numerous studies have found that reduced-salt diets can be associated with higher levels of blood cholesterol, and blood triglycerides.

These fatty substances are found in blood and can cause a buildup in the arteries, increasing the risk of developing heart disease.

A large 2012 study found that low-salt eating increased blood cholesterol by 2.5%, and blood triglycerides 7%.

Another study found that low-salt diets increased LDL cholesterol by 4.6%, and blood triglycerides.

Another study has shown that salt limitation could lead to a resistance to insulin.

Insulin resistance is a condition that makes insulin work less efficiently and increases the risk of developing diabetes.

Hyponatremia (low blood sodium) can be caused by a low-salt diet.

Hyponatremia is when your body retains extra water because of low levels, excess heat, or overhydration. This can cause symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea.

Addendum: Heart Failure Patients Saw No Benefit From A Low Salt Diet

Medical dogma is that people with heart failure need to adhere to a low salt diet. The largest randomized trial in history on the subject failed to show any benefit for reducing clinical events with a low salt diet. In fact, the low salt group often had MORE clinical events.

So what’s the bottom line?

Salt is an essential part of your diet, and its components play vital roles in your body.

For some, however, excessive salt can lead to conditions such as high blood pressure and stomach cancer.

Salt can have different effects on people and not all salt will cause adverse health effects.

As awlays, ask your doctor.

Low-salt diets are most beneficial for those with high blood pressure or salt sensitivities. The ideal sodium intake for most people is around one teaspoon (6g) daily.