Tuesday 23 January 2018

Is Too Much Salt Damaging Your Brain?

Like most people nowadays, I spend a lot of time on the internet, and while most of it is spent reading the latest research on health, nutrition and natural medicine, I sometimes come across well-meaning but misinformed articles that have completely misinterpreted the research. And, lately it seems that there are more and more articles telling people not to worry about eating a lot of salt. They insist that there are no health issues from doing so. But, new research (not to mention a lot of older studies) and some basic nutritional facts suggest otherwise.
Consider a study published in Nature Neuroscience that found excessive salt consumption causes more than just the well-documented high blood pressure and heart issues, it also affects healthy blood flow to the brain and causes an increased risk of cognitive impairment, dementia and cerebrovascular diseases, including stroke.​
The researchers found that the cells that form the lining of blood vessels can become impaired from a high salt diet, which can reduce the blood vessels’ ability to transport oxygen-rich blood that is needed by every organ in the body, including the brain. The study found that high amounts of salt in the diet suppressed blood flow to the brain, which leads to cognitive impairment and the risk of cerebrovascular diseases.
The study also found that a high sodium diet impairs the gut-brain axis by increasing the number of white blood cells in the gut which leads to gut inflammation—a factor in many conditions including brain diseases. The gut has been considered the “second brain” by many experts for years so this new discovery may lend further insight into how impaired gut health may affect brain health. 
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the average American eats twice as much sodium than they should be, ingesting a whopping 3400 milligrams daily compared to the recommended limit of 1500 mg daily.
While the damaging effects of this level of sodium intake is serious, the great news is that the researchers also found that the effects of a high salt diet were highly reversible within 12 weeks.
While it is true that our body needs sodium, we certainly don’t need this mineral in the amount most of us are getting in our daily diet. Sodium is a mineral known as an electrolyte which helps in the transmission of electrical signals in our body. Yes, our brain, nervous system, heart and other functions in our body are kept in balance through electrical communications between cells and tissues. In this regard, sodium, along with other electrolytes like potassium, help to ensure the proper transmission of these signals. But, sodium must be kept in balance with potassium. These minerals work in opposition with each other.
In other words, when sodium rises excessively high, potassium drops, and vice versa. Once you understand this fundamental nutritional fact you’ll understand why a high sodium diet can be so detrimental. After all, there are a host of problems linked to low potassium, including: irregular heartbeat, tissue swelling, abnormally tight muscles, and impaired kidney function, to name a few.
If you eat fast food, processed food, prepared foods or even restaurant foods, you are probably getting more sodium than you think, so be sure to read package labels and choose only those with low amounts of sodium. Additionally, here are some ways to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet:
-Salt often hides in extremely high amounts in condiments like ketchup, mustard, relish, salsa, etc. Use these items sparingly and choose low sodium options.
-Avoid poultry that has been injected with a saline solution. Read the fine print on packages and avoid those with terms like “broth,” “saline” or “sodium solution.”
-Cook more of your meals at home where you can minimize the amount of salt you add to recipes.
-Instead of salt, add fresh or dried herbs and spices, lemon juice or vinegar as ways to add flavor to your recipes.
-Avoid spice mixes since they often contain salt.
-Make your own salad dressings with 2 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar or lemon juice and add herbs like garlic. Shake in a mason jar with a lid or blend and store in a covered container. Homemade dressings are far superior to the salt-laden options in most grocery stores.

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