Health Side Effects of Salt

By Lindsay Boyers
Health Side Effects of Salt
Photo Credit Salt image by lefebvre_jonathan from
Salt, scientifically known as sodium chloride, is a mineral essential to life, according to the National Institute of Health. In the human body, sodium controls the volume of body fluid, helps to maintain electrolyte balance, and is an integral part of proper nerve and muscle function. Although sodium is necessary to sustain human life, consuming too much or too little salt can have negative health side effects.

Too Much Salt

The over consumption of salt is becoming increasingly common in the American diet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The most well-known side effect of too much salt is hypertension, or high blood pressure. An excess of salt causes blood vessels to constrict, which is dangerous because the heart is required to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Prolonged hypertension increases the risk of heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease. Another side effect of too much salt is edema, a swelling of the body, usually seen in the hands and legs. Edema occurs when the body retains an excess of fluid in an attempt to balance out the extra sodium.

Too Little Salt

Although not as common, too little salt also can have negative health side effects. That condition, called hyponatremia, is most often caused by the use of diuretics or severe diarrhea or vomiting. In less common occurrences, hyponatremia can be caused by not eating enough salt, excreting too much sodium through prolonged exercise (such as marathon running), or drinking too much water. Early symptoms of having too little salt in the body include fatigue, confusion, headache, nausea, muscle cramps and a loss of appetite, according to the Mayo Clinic. More severe symptoms are seizures and coma.


The USDA sets the dietary guideline for salt for the average person at no more than 2,300 mg, or 1 tsp., per day. That recommendation decreases for those with existing heart problems or high blood pressure. An individual will either be put on a 1,000 mg, 2,000 mg or “NAS” (“no added salt”) diet, depending on his or her specific condition.

After Effects of Taking Too Much Salt

Although some sodium is necessary for good health, consuming too much can result in adverse effects, including bloating and high blood pressure. Fortunately, it is possible to avoid these problems by reducing the amount of salt in your diet.

Sodium Chloride

Dietary salt is made up of the electrolytes sodium and chloride. Small amounts of these elements are critical to the maintenance of blood pressure and volume. A healthy balance of sodium chloride in cell membranes is necessary for nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction. Sodium also enables nutrient absorption in the small intestine. While rare, sodium deficiency, or hyponatremia, can result from excessive sweating, diuretic use and illnesses that cause diarrhea or vomiting. Hyponatremia can lead to brain swelling and damage, seizures or coma.

Fluid Retention and Hypernatremia

Your kidneys regulate the amount of sodium in your body. If sodium levels are too high, the kidneys flush the excess into your urine. However, if the kidneys don’t function properly or you take in more sodium than they can excrete, sodium will build up in your blood and in the fluid around cells. The body retains water to balance the sodium levels. This can result in bloating and swelling, also known as edema. Excessive blood sodium, or hypernatremia, can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, as well as edema, trouble breathing, rapid heart rate and convulsions.

High Blood Pressure

Sodium intake has been linked to blood pressure in many clinical studies. One particularly convincing study published in the “British Medical Journal” in 1996 recorded the response to changing sodium levels and blood pressure of 10,074 people from 32 countries between the ages of 20 and 59. The results showed a clear relationship between dietary sodium and blood pressure, especially in the middle-aged subjects. People with high blood pressure should be especially careful to limit dietary sodium.


The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults take in no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease or are African-American or over the age of 51, keep your sodium intake to 1,500 mg or lower. Processed and packaged foods and condiments are often a source of hidden sodium. Read nutritional labels carefully, reduce or eliminate salt when cooking and take the salt shaker off the table.

Information sourced from:

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: