Salt is a chemical compound made of chloride and sodium. It is often used to flavour and preserve foods. A small amount of it is good for our body, as it helps us to maintain the correct volume of tissue fluids and blood in the body.
However, most people consume more salt than they should and this can have negative effects on health – including the density of our bones. An Australian study from 2011 found that our brains respond to sodium chloride in a way similar to how we react to nicotine, cocaine and heroin.¹
It’s no wonder we eat so much salt in our diet! We are literally addicted to it!
Is Salt Bad for Us?
A common issue that results when you eat way too much salt is that the kidneys struggle to deal with the excess salt within the bloodstream.² As the sodium chloride accumulates, your body will start to hold onto water in order to dilute it. This will include the amount of fluid in your cells as well as the volume of the blood in your bloodstream. This often puts more pressure your blood vessels and heart.
Over time the added stress to your blood vessels can lead to high blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke and heart attack. High blood pressure that is caused by eating too much salt can also damage the arteries that lead to the brain. This can have a detrimental affect on your brain cells, and may even contribute to the risk of dementia.³ Also, an excess of salt has been linked to several other health issues, including kidney stones, fluid retention, stomach cancer and osteoporosis.⁴
Can Over-Consuming Salt Damage Our Bones?
Dietary prevention of bone loss is really important. And some researchers do believe that eating too much salt can negatively impact your bones.
Many experts believe that high salt diets lead to more sodium chloride and calcium being excreted from our bodies. This can have a negative effect on bone mass, especially at the hip and ankle.⁵
Studies led by Lynda Frassetto, professor at UCSF School of Medicine, have found that eating too much sodium chloride not only increased urine calcium excretion, but also increased bone resorption rates.⁶
It is possible that this can be made worse if you have a low potassium intake. Too much sodium chloride and not enough potassium can put you at risk of what some scientists refer to as metabolic alkalosis, which leads to bone loss too. Frassetto even recommends: “decreasing sodium chloride intake and increasing potassium (and bicarbonate-rich precursors) to help the aging skeleton.“ ⁷
And finally, studies have also suggested that high salt consumption is especially problematic in postmenopausal women than it is for younger adults. Increased sodium chloride consumption in young men and premenopausal women was sometimes linked to increased intestinal calcium absorption, as the body tried to compensate for urinary calcium loss. The same was not observed in postmenopausal females, suggesting that older women are unable to compensate in the same way. ⁸⁻⁹
The Main Takeaway: Reduce Your Dietary Salt Intake If You Have Osteoporosis!
Especially if you are postmenopausal, as your body has a harder time dealing with the consequences of a high-salt diet.
But really, if we consider the other impacts of high-salt diets on our health, we should all be watching how much salt we eat!
Signs to Look Out For
How do you know if you have too much salt in your diet? The truth is that there probably is, as the typical modern Western diet is very high in sodium chloride. Here are some of the signs to look out for.
1. Swelling: Excessive salt in the diet can cause a symptom that is known as edema, which involves swelling of the arms, ankles, hands, feet and legs.¹⁰
However, keep in mind that edema can also be caused by many other factors including menopause, the contraceptive pill, heat, high altitudes and lack of physical exercise.
2. Dehydration: You may also feel very thirsty if you are eating too much salt. The extra salt you eat will require water to balance it out, but without enough water in your diet your body starts to pull water from your cells. This causes thirst, dehydration and sometimes even dizziness or nausea.
3. Stomach Ulcers: Excess salt consumption is also linked to stomach ulcers.¹¹ It is thought that the salt negatively affects the mucous lining of the stomach and causes the tissues within the stomach to become abnormal.
4. High Blood Pressure: Also, having high blood pressure can be a sign of excess salt intake, as discussed above. Of course, high blood pressure can be influenced by a number of factors. However, if you have high blood pressure you might try reducing your sodium intake to see if that makes a difference.
Some of these symptoms are pretty common and can be caused by other things. But if you notice that you have all of these, and experience them pretty regularly, then sodium chloride may be the culprit.
How to Reduce Your Salt Consumption
You can reduce your salt consumption by cutting down the amount of canned and processed foods you eat.
For example, you can buy fresh vegetables rather than the canned variety, which can be high in salt. Fast food meals will also be very high in salt, including hamburgers, pizza and hot dogs.
Also, cut down on the amount of salt you add while cooking and to your food after it is cooked. Instead, consider using herbs such as dill, basil, oregano, parsley and thyme to add flavor to your food.
Your food may taste bland at first, but your taste buds will adapt to the lower salt levels after only a few weeks. After a while unsalted food will taste normal and you will start to wonder how you enjoyed eating food that was so salty!
We like UCSF Medical School’s List of High/Low Sodium Foods
You can also find out if a food is high in sodium chloride by checking the nutrition facts label. If the level of sodium chloride is higher than 20%, then the food is quite high in salt.
Remember, it is best to eat no more than 2,300 mg of sodium chloride per day.¹²
Reading the labels can be very surprising, as most processed foods are higher in salt than you might expect. For example, a bowl of cornflakes can have a similar amount of salt as a small packet of potato chips.
You don’t have to cut out salt dramatically all in one day, as this may be difficult to do. Instead, try to slowly reduce your salt intake by replacing foods in your diet with ones that are lower in salt.
It will take a while to adjust, but when you do you will be eating a diet that is much better for your bones, overall health and longevity.
How do you cut out unnecessary salt from your diet? Let us know in the comments below 🙂
- Liedtke, W. B., McKinley, M. J., Walker, L. L., Zhang, H., Pfenning, A. R., Drago, J., Denton, D. A. (2011). Relation of addiction genes to hypothalamic gene changes subserving genesis and gratification of a classic instinct, sodium appetite. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(30), 12509–12514. doi:10.1073/pnas.1109199108
- President, T., & Harvard, F. of. (2013, July 18). Health risks and disease related to salt and sodium. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/salt-and-sodium/sodium-health-risks-and-disease/
- guarantee. (2008). Blood pressure: Salt’s effects on your body. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/microsites/salt/Home/Whysaltisbad/Saltseffects
- 2016, S. of V. (2014, May 31). Salt. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/salt
- Devine, A., Criddle, R., Dick, I., Kerr, D., & Prince, R. (1995). A longitudinal study of the effect of sodium and calcium intakes on regional bone density in postmenopausal women. The American journal of clinical nutrition., 62(4), 740–5. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7572702
- Frassetto LA, Morris RC Jr, Sebastian A. Dietary sodium as a determinant of bone resorption rate and bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. J Am Soc Neph. 2004;15:512A.
- Frassetto LA, et al. Adverse effects of sodium chloride in bone in the aging human population resulting from habitual consumption of typical American Diets. J Nutr. 2008 Feb;138(2):419S-422S.
- Breslau NA, McGuire JL, Zerwekh JE, Pak CYC. The role of dietary sodium on renal excretion and intestinal absorption of calcium and on vitamin D metabolism. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1982;55:369–73.
- Breslau NA, Sakhaee K, Pak CYC. Impaired adaptation to salt-induced urinary calcium losses in postmenopausal osteoporosis. Trans Assoc Am Physicians. 1985;98:107–15.
- Written, & Nordqvist, C. (2015, July 6). Edema: Causes, symptoms and treatments. . Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/159111.php
- Sonnenberg, A. (1986). Dietary salt and gastric ulcer. , 27(10), . Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1433867/?page=1
- 2016, N. (2016). Nutrition – national osteoporosis foundation. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from https://www.nof.org/patients/treatment/nutrition