NEGATIVE IMPACT OF HIGH SALT (COMMON SALT) INTAKE ON OUR HEALTH
In the previous article, we have seen how Common Salt (sodium chloride) has become a part of our life, how much daily salt intake is sufficient for our body and how we unknowingly end up consuming too much salt through the food we eat,
Now let’s discuss one by one the health hazards associated with excess salt consumption:
- HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE (HYPERTENSION):
Blood pressure is defined as the pressure exerted by the circulating blood on the walls of arteries.
- Kidneys filter our blood to remove excess fluid and toxins from the body. This excess fluid and toxins filtered by kidneys are collected into our bladder and removed from the body as urine. This process depends on the balance between sodium and potassium levels in the blood. Eating excess salt increases the amount of sodium, which disturbs this balance. It reduces the ability of kidneys to remove excess water from the blood. The volume of Blood increases which puts more pressure on the walls of blood vessels through which it is flowing.
- An increased volume of blood puts extra strain on the inner walls of the arteries. To cope with this extra strain, the walls of these arteries become thicker, which narrows the space inside them. It increases the resistance to the smooth flow of blood through them. To overcome this resistance, the pressure of the blood increases (High blood pressure).
- DAMAGE TO THE KIDNEYS:
The primary function of our kidneys is the filtration of blood to remove unwanted toxins and excess water from it and send them to the bladder in the form of urine. Whenever a person keeps on eating a high salt diet, the levels of sodium in our blood increase, which makes it difficult for the kidneys to remove excess fluid from the blood. It increases the volume of blood and subsequently, the blood pressure. Increased blood pressure puts extra strain on the ‘filtration units’ of our kidneys, if this persists for a longer duration, can damage the kidneys.
- INCREASED RISK OF CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE:
- The high salt consumption is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure. As a consequence of persistent high blood pressure, the inner walls of blood vessels become thickened and rigid, which makes their lumen narrow. It significantly reduces the amount of blood flow. Less amount of oxygen and nutrition reaches the organs supplied by these blood vessels. When such condition happens with heart, it manifests as chest pain (angina) & if this persists may result in the permanent damage and manifest as a heart attack (Myocardial Infarction)
- Continuous high blood pressure may injure the inner walls of blood vessels. This condition may increase the risk of developing plaques (Cholesterol) on the inner walls of these blood vessels. These plaques create a blockage and can interrupt the blood flow, which escalates the problem further.
- HEART FAILURE:
High salt intake is associated with high blood pressure & persistent high blood pressure results in narrowing and stiffening of the blood vessels. It reduces the amount of blood flowing through them. Thus, the heart has to pump blood at a greater force and intensity. If this condition persists for a longer duration, it results in the damage to heart musculature and failure of heart function (Failure of heart as a pump).
- WEIGHT GAIN/OBESITY:
Excessive salt in diet increases the levels of sodium in the human body. Excess of sodium causes retention of water within the body; this excess water retention may appear as a weight gain. The problem is not limited to this; Excess salt intake increases endogenous production of fructose in our body. This fructose creates insulin and leptin resistance, increases appetite (Increased food intake) and favours excess fat deposition within our body and contributes to the development of obesity.
- STOMACH CANCER:
Excess salt in a diet can damage the protective inner lining of our stomach. It also favours the colonization of a particular bacteria called Helicobacter Pylori (Commonly associated with the development of Stomach cancer). Both of these mechanisms can work together as a risk factor for the development of stomach cancer.
- INCREASED RISK OF KIDNEY STONES:
The persistent high salt intake increases the calcium levels in our urine. Presence of excess calcium in urine favours the development of renal (Kidney) stones.
Long-term intake food having high salt content results in increased concentration of sodium within our body. As we have already discussed, higher sodium levels are associated with excess excretion of calcium through the kidney. It reduces the calcium levels in the blood. The calcium is removed from our bones to compensate for this, which makes them brittle (osteoporosis) and prone to injuries (fracture).
- SWELLING (OEDEMA) IN THE BODY:
Oedema/Swelling in the body can occur in various diseases. From the scope of this article, we will limit our discussion to excess salt consumption as a risk factor. Oedema (swelling/puffiness in the body) is a result of retention of water/fluid in the spaces between our cells and tissues.
With excess salt consumption, the sodium levels increase. If this persists for a longer duration, our kidneys fail to excrete the extra sodium accumulated in the body. It increases the retention of fluid within and in between the body tissues and cells & manifests as swelling (puffiness)/Oedema.
Persistent high salt is a risk factor for the development of high blood pressure. A headache may occur in case of increased blood pressure. Thus, salt intake may be an indirect cause for a headache.
- EFFECT ON BRAIN (PROBLEM WITH MEMORY AND THINKING ABILITY):
Frequently Eating salty foods triggers a chemical reaction within our gut, which ultimately results in the reduction in blood supply to the brain cells. It can manifest as Memory and thinking problems, reduced concentration, decreased analytical or problem-solving ability, etc.
We have so far discussed the health problems associated with high salt intake in our diet. Many of these health issues can be very serious (sometimes fatal) if not managed adequately.
We should understand that these problems are easily preventable if we make some cautious efforts to reduce the amount of salt in our day to day diet.
But the question is;
HOW CAN WE REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF SALT IN OUR DIET?
The answer to this question is straightforward; follow some tips given below:
- Avoid eating processed food or outside food (Most of the time, it contains a high amount of salt) on a daily/regular basis; Instead, try to eat a home–cooked meal.
- Try to limit the amount of salt put while cooking food at home.
- Avoid putting additional salt in vegetables or curries (already cooked) while eating (Salt added while cooking is sufficient).
- Keep the quantity and number of pickles, sauces, chutneys and Papad to the minimum in regular diet.
- Limit the consumption of carbonated/Aerated soft drinks and artificial juices to the minimum (It also contains a high amount of salt).