By Dr. Mercola
Salt is essential for life — you cannot live without it.
Salt has been important to humanity for life on this planet. Even the word "salary" comes from sal because Romans were paid in salt.
African and European explorers traded an ounce of salt for an ounce of gold — salt was literally worth its weight in gold.
Unrefined natural salt is important to many biological processes, including:
- Being a major component of your blood plasma, lymphatic fluid, extracellular fluid, and even amniotic fluid
- Carrying nutrients into and out of your cells
- Helping the lining of your blood vessels to regulate blood pressure
- Helping you regulate propagation of nerve impulses
- Helping your brain send communication signals to your muscles, so that you can move on demand (sodium-potassium ion exchange)
Having outlined the importance of salt it is important to realize that too much sodium can hurt you, but the same can be said of most things — even oxygen and water.
Indeed, there is far too much sodium in processed foods. But you shouldn't be eating those foods anyway — high sodium is but one of MANY ingredients in processed foods that will ruin your immune system and cut your precious life short.
One of the latest harmful ingredients is methanol. This toxic alcohol poison is typically in nearly all fresh vegetables and fruits but is bound to pectin so it does not typically cause problems. But once they are canned in glass or aluminum the methanol dissociates from the pectin and can elevate to very high levels and contribute to diseases like MS.
But getting back to salt, the general question remains — is it harmful?
Salts of the Earth
As it turns out, salt is a very general term that can mean many things. All salts are NOT equal in terms of origin, chemistry, crystal structure, biological effects — or even flavor!
Chemically speaking, a salt is simply any ionic compound arising from the joining of a positively charged ion and a negatively charged ion, so that the product is electrically neutral.
When people talk about salt, they are usually referring to refined table salt, or sodium chloride. But in fact, most minerals are salts, including magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) and ammonium nitrate (used in fertilizer).
But with typically edible salts, most people do not realize there are enormous differences between common, refined table salt and natural, unrefined salt.
One is health damaging, and the other is healing.
ALERT — Natural Salt is 85 Percent Sodium Chloride and Processed Salt is 98 Percent
Ordinary table salt undergoes a great deal of processing between the factory and your grocer. It is approximately 97.5 percent sodium chloride and 2.5 percent chemicals such as iodine and moisture absorbents, dried at over 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. This high heat alters the natural chemical structure of the salt.
By contrast, unrefined salt is 84 percent sodium chloride and 16 percent other naturally occurring minerals, including many trace minerals like silicon, phosphorous and vanadium.
If you want your body to function properly, you need a balanced salt, complete with all-natural elements and free of pollutants. I will speak more about my favorite natural salt a bit later.
The important point is, today's ordinary table salt has nothing in common with natural sea salt.
The Adulteration of Table Salt
What remains after ordinary table salt is "chemically cleaned" is sodium chloride, an unnatural chemical form of salt that your body recognizes as something completely foreign. Therefore, when you add more salt to your already salty Spaghettios, your body receives more salt than it can dispose of.
Typical processed salt has independent crystals that are totally isolated from each other. In order for your body to try to metabolize processed salt , it must sacrifice tremendous amounts of energy.
Inorganic sodium chloride in the form of processed salt can keep you from an ideal fluid balance and can overburden your elimination system.
When your body tries to isolate the excess salt, water molecules must surround the sodium chloride to break them up into sodium and chloride ions before your body can neutralize them. To accomplish this, water is taken from your cells.
This results in a less-than-ideal fluid balance within your cells.
Every gram of excess sodium chloride your body has to neutralize uses up 23 grams of cellular water. Hence, eating too much common processed salt will cause fluid to accumulate in your tissues, which contributes to:
- Unsightly cellulite
- Rheumatism, arthritis and gout
- Kidney and gall bladder stones
Processed salt will also oftentimes contain potentially dangerous preservatives.
Calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, and aluminum hydroxide are often added to improve salt's "pourability." Aluminum is a light alloy that deposits into your brain — a potential cause of Alzheimer's disease.
Current Sodium Recommendations
The American Heart Association has suggested limiting your sodium consumption to fewer than 1,500 mg per day to decrease your risk for high blood pressure, stroke and weight gain.
The CDC reports less than ten percent of adults are meeting this limit, and some studies have suggested many Americans are consuming more than 7,000 mg of salt per day, which is the equivalent of approximately 3 teaspoons of table salt.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition considers a product high in sodium if it contains more than 500 milligrams per 100 gram serving. Similarly, it considers a product low in sodium if it contains less than 120 milligrams per 100 grams.
The foods highest in sodium tend to be processed meats, which often contain a whopping 800 mg per 100 gram serving!
It probably makes sense to limit your intake of refined processed salts to these levels. However, if you are healthy your body should be able to easily tolerate much higher levels of unprocessed salts.
The only exception would be for those who have heart failure and are very sensitive to fluid overload. Those with congestive heart failure (CHF) will typically be on a number of different drugs to improve cardiac function.
So those with established CHF should maintain strict sodium restrictions but should also look into the many effective natural options out there like ubiquinol which has been shown to be highly effective in improving those with lowered cardiac ejection fractions.
Why are Processed Foods so Loaded With Sodium?
At one time, salting was one of the few ways people could preserve foods. Salt kills bacteria that can cause food to spoil.
But today, between chemical preservatives and refrigeration, salt is added for other reasons — and it's added to processed foods in HUGE amounts. The reason for this has more to do with the fact that salt is an inexpensive way to improve the taste of overcooked, bland, nutrient-butchered carnage in a can that some people call food.
Salt is used in high amounts in lunchmeats and cheeses to extend shelf life. Sodium also helps bind ingredients together and acts as a stabilizer.
Besides sodium chloride, sodium is also a component of other ingredients you will find on your labels, further driving up your sodium level:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
- Sodium benzoate
- Sodium nitrate
- Sodium saccharin
Hypertension Is Driven More by Excess SUGAR than Excess Salt
While I certainly agree you should not consume large quantities of refined processed salt, just switching to low-sodium foods — especially those in a box or a can — is not going to get you very far toward your health goals.
There are other factors that control fluid and electrolyte balance, blood pressure, kidney disease, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
For example, one of the greatest revelations of late is the link between fructose consumption and hypertension. Uric acid is a byproduct of fructose metabolism, and increased uric acid levels drive up your blood pressure. The amount of salt people in this country are consuming pales in comparison to the amount of fructose they are eating on a daily basis, yet the AMA issues no warnings about this.
I believe that sugar/fructose consumption is the major driving force behind our ever-increasingly elevated blood pressures.
Can Your Sodium be Too LOW?
Yes it can!
You may not be aware of this, but you have an increased risk for health problems if your sodium is too low (hyponatremia). For example:
- A 2009 study of large-bone fractures in the elderly found the incidence of hyponatremia in patients with fractures was MORE THAN DOUBLE that of non-fracture patients. They postulated the reason for the sodium deficiency might have been the use of selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant drugs.
- A 1995 study by the AMA published in the journal Hypertension found low urinary sodium associated with an increased risk of heart attack.
Changes in mood and appetite are among the first noticeable manifestations of sodium deficiency, since salt is a natural antidepressant.
And the preponderance of evidence proves that sodium intake does NOT affect blood pressure unless you are especially sodium-sensitive.
Salt as Nature Intended It: Himalayan Crystal Salt
The more you can move toward a diet of whole foods in their natural state, the healthier you'll be — whether it's veggies, meat, dairy products, or salt. If you are a protein type, you will need more salt than your fellow carbohydrate types.
Given that salt is absolutely essential to good health, I highly recommend switching to my favorite unrefined salt, an all-natural source from the Himalayas.
This salt is very special — it is completely pure, having spent many thousands of years maturing under extreme tectonic pressure, far away from exposure to impurities, so it isn't polluted with the heavy metals and industrial toxins of today. And it's minimally processed — hand-mined and hand-washed.
Himalayan salt contains 84 trace minerals from our prehistoric seas, and its crystalline structure actually stores vibrational energy, which is restorative to your body.
The crystal salt from the Himalayas does not burden your body as refined salts do.
It is very difficult for your body to absorb too much crystal salt since there are effective feedback loops that regulate this process. Natural crystal salt always promotes a healthful balance and does not contribute to high blood pressure like refined table salt.
And it's the most delicious salt you'll ever find!
Not only is Himalayan salt nutritionally beneficial and delicious, but it also has several great healing applications when used topically:
- Bath Soak: As a "brine bath," it is stimulating and even moisturizing to your skin, as well as detoxifying. Use a 1 percent concentration, which is equal to your natural body fluids (add about 2.6 pounds of salt to an average tub of water). Soak for 15 to 20 minutes, and do not shower off—just blot with a towel.
- Salt Sole: Sole simply means a supersaturated saltwater solution (about 8 percent salt), and with this you can treat a number of skin conditions, including itching and rashes.
- Sinus Flush: Mix with pure water in a neti pot a 1 percent solution (normal saline) with warm water for a beneficial sinus or allergy treatment; use 1 gram per 100ml (one-fifth teaspoon in 3.34 ounces lukewarm water).
- Eye rinse: The same 1 percent solution rejuvenates tired or irritated eyes.
- Throat gargle: To treat a cold or sore throat, gargle with a 1 percent saltwater solution (but don't swallow).