Why salt is essential to human life - Tucson Local Media: Health & Wellness

Why salt is essential to human life

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Posted: Thursday, August 7, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:35 am, Fri Aug 15, 2014.

(BPT) - Did you know salt is an important ingredient for your good health? No electrolyte is more essential to human survival than salt because the sodium you get from salt is what allows nerves to send and receive electrical impulses, helping your muscles stay strong, your brain functioning and your cells working well. Sodium is easily absorbed and is required for the absorption of other nutrients in the small intestine and for the digestion of body-building protein.

What you may not know is sodium chloride is a nutrient that the body cannot produce, and therefore it must be eaten.

Because the body needs sodium, it has developed several mechanisms to conserve and retain it when not enough has been ingested. The body will essentially tell your kidneys to stop releasing sodium to make sure it retains a sufficient amount to carry out all the functions that require sodium.

The other component of salt, chloride is also essential to survival and good health. It preserves acid-base balance in the body, it aids potassium absorption, it improves the ability of the blood to move harmful carbon dioxide from tissues out to the lungs and, most importantly, it supplies the crucial stomach acids required to break down and digest all the foods we eat.

Because salt is so essential to life and good health, the human body is hard-wired with a built-in salt appetite. “The good news is that around 95 percent of the global population already consumes within the range we’ve found to generate the least instances of mortality and cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Niels Graudal of the University of Copenhagen. This healthy range was found to be between 2,645 mg/day and 4,945 mg/day according to reach recently published in the American Journal of Hypertension.

Americans and most Europeans consume about 3,500 mg/day of sodium, right in the middle of the healthy range. These levels of salt consumption, even with the amount of processed foods we eat, are far less than they were a century ago, because refrigeration has taken over the important role of food preservation from the traditional method of salt preservation. The higher levels of salt consumption also correspond to the countries with the greatest life expectancies.

Because the level of salt consumption is so stable, it is an ideal medium to use for fortifying other essential nutrients such as iodine. Iodized salt first produced in the U.S. in 1924 is now used by 75 percent of the world’s population to protect against mental retardation due to Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD). Many countries also fortify salt with fluoride against dental cavities in situations where fluoridating drinking water is inappropriate. And a growing number of countries fortify salt with iron to prevent anemia.

Salt is also vital to hydration. After exercise, it is critical to replace both water and salt lost through perspiration during exercise. That’s why all athletes make sure they are consuming sufficient salt during and after a workout. Expectant mothers and seniors, in particular, need to guard against under-consumption of salt and higher-salt diets have been used successfully to combat chronic fatigue syndrome. Asthma sufferers, particularly in Eastern Europe, are often treated by having the person spend time in salt mines. This is because the unique microclimate, containing ultrafine salt particles helps clear the lungs.

In conclusion, table salt, a nutrient so essential to life not only adds flavor to foods, but it is a life saver as well.

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