Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How Salt Can Harm

You hear a lot about how salt is bad for you, but you also hear that doctors disagree on how harmful it is. Also, I noticed you almost never hear exactly how salt is bad for you. They just tell you salt is bad, not how it's bad. So I decided to investigate.

What got me going on this salt topic is a story at the Washington Post: "
Rx for Salt: Cut It Out." In this article, there are some pretty sad statistics. For example, if you're over 55, you have a 90 percent chance of developing high blood pressure. Thirty percent, or 65 million Americans already have this problem. Thus, as the Post points out, the AMA is on a campaign to reduce the salt in our food. They're calling for a 50 percent cut in the sodium that goes into processed foods, and for the FDA to "revoke salt's status as a food ingredient 'generally recognized as safe,'" reports the Post.

Also in the Post report, they point out that a number of factors lead to high blood pressure: inactivity, obesity, alcohol consumption and, of course, salt. But instead of calling for people to get up and exercise, eat less food or cut out the alcohol, the article goes on to single out salt as the one villain to be defeated. Why is that? I'm not sure. But I did decide to get the facts on salt, and
I found them at the BBC News' Medical Notes section.

First, here's why you need salt
Salt does three main things for you. "Sodium helps to maintain the concentration of body fluids at correct levels. It also plays a central role in the transmission of electrical impulses in the nerves, and helps cells to take up nutrients," reports the BBC.

But in large amounts, salt can harm
If you eat too much salt, your body can retain too much water and other bodily fluids. Excess bodily fluid may put a strain on your system. For example, too much fluid in the brain can lead to weakness in its blood vessels, which can cause stroke. And a greater volume of blood means your heart is working harder, which may lead to heart disease.

Alas, there is some disagreement over the link between salt, heart disease and stroke. I'm sure it's hard to isolate salt as the single factor when people with heart disease may also be overweight, inactive and consuming a lot of alcohol. My unprofessional advice? Occasionally indulge in salty foods, alcohol and a good, fun junk food binge. But please, don't make it a habit. Instead, make exercise a habit. As much of a pain in the butt as that can be, make like Nike and just do it.

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Pound360 Archive

About Me

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.