Hydration Series - All About Salt / Sodium Intake History
Sodium, and specifically salt is bad for you right?
I blinked a couple times, really thought out my next words and responded with, it depends.
We HATE giving that answer here at Powell Performance. People often see it as a copout, but the truth is, as with most things in hydration, nutrition and performance, we need to make sure it is tailored to, even if only slightly, what is best for you.
Are Salt and Sodium the same?
Most people know that salt is NaCl - meaning that it partially made up of sodium and partially chloride. What most people don't remember from high school or college is that sodium only makes up 40% of salt.
That being said, when a person takes in a teaspoon of salt, less than half of it is sodium. While they are often talked about interchangeably it is a big difference.
A teaspoon of salt will provide approximately 2300mg of sodium.
When and why did salt start being called bad for you?
Salt started getting a really bad wrap when in 1977 the Dietary Goals for the United States came out with recommendations for people to lower their salt intake. The problem? This recommendation was founded on minimal research. The main study referenced from 1904 had 6 participants.
Once this was published, the war on salt started and has raged on ever since. Why did it become such a big issue?
Around the same time as that 1904 study, two scientists tracked the surge of disease, specifically hypertension and looked for the reason. With a European researcher showing through research and mechanisms that it was sugar. The American scientist hypothesized it was salt, but with his larger platform and more vocal approach he swayed popular opinion.
This increased notice led to more research conducted. Unfortunately, these studies had mostly flawed protocols or were skewed to return salt dominant results. This poorly done research reinforced the idea salt is bad.
We know from our other articles on research, that the research should be done with minimal bias, double blind when possible and with out sponsorships or providing money for the specific results. As an example of BAD research, one scientist went out of their way to actually breed salt-sensitive rats for his research!
Since those studies, now over a hundred years ago, research has shown salt is NOT the cause of chronic disease. Unfortunately, a lot of people, researchers included, are clinging on to old beliefs regardless of research.
Salt and Blood Pressure
For a healthy person, does a low-salt diet decrease blood pressure?
Ironically, for most people, it does not, or only a very small amount.
Research has shown that approximately 80% of people with a normal blood pressure (BP) range of 120/80 mmHg are almost completely unaffected by salt.
Research also shows that 75% of prehypertensive and 55% of people with hypertension are not as affected by salt either.
*NOTE – please read down below that people with hypertension should still consult a doctor about a potential low sodium diet and to see IF they are salt sensitive.
Another interesting fact that was found in the research for those salt-sensitive people was when their sugar consumption is reduced or resolved, their salt-sensitivity, and blood pressure reaction to it disappears.
So, when we say that a reduced salt intake will lower BP slightly, how slight are we talking?
A salt intake of 2,300 milligrams lowers BP by 0.8/0.2 mmHg blood pressure drop. So, If your blood pressure were 120/80 mmHg before salt reduction, your new blood pressure would be an astounding 119/80 mmHg—not much to write home about. The previously noted reduction is so minuscule that it is likely to make no significant difference in your health whatsoever.
However, some low-salt advocates claim that a one-point drop in blood pressure could statistically save millions of people lives. And maybe they would be right if a low-salt diet didn’t also come with adverse health effects— but it does.
For example, scientists have known for some time that low-salt diets increase heart rate in nearly everyone. Medical professionals agree that total stress on your cardiovascular system is a combination of blood pressure and heart rate. So, does a one point reduction in blood pressure outweigh an additional four beets per minute added to your heart rate? The answer, according to the author, is an emphatic—no.
So, if you’ve been a good patient and citizen, and have been reducing your intake of salt, heart rate is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a low-salt diet’s problems. Below, we dive into the adverse health effects of a low-salt diet.
How does sodium HELP your health?
The amount of sodium a person brings in can have a major impact on some of the following factors; cognitive function, nerve function, muscular contraction, fluid balances and the absorption of nutrients in the gut.
When the appropriate amount of sodium is consumed and athletes are able to balance their intake with their outputs during training, competition, etc. they can improve all of those physical attributes leading to better health and performance.
When should a person reduce dietary salt?
It IS important to note that we are not telling you to not listen to your doctor. We also want to make it clear that we are recommending that salt intake should be done on an individual level.
If a person is healthy, with no comorbidities, it is likely that increasing or maintaining salt intake could help with performance, health and longevity.
However, people with a current heart issues or comorbidities like type II diabetes, kidney issues, heart failure and dyslipidemia should be much more concerned with their salt intake. Due to kidneys being unable to balance fluids as well with these diseases. This can lead to raised blood pressure and in turn to long term kidney damage and disease. So, low salt diets are important in hospital settings and for specific populations.
In these cases, we highly recommend you that you consult your doctor, then work with our team of Registered Dietitians, to find the appropriate balance of salt. For most people with these situations, it is a significantly decreased intake to make sure that the blood pressure is balanced and that kidneys and other vital organs work optimally.
Want to learn more about how sodium and salt intake should be implemented on an individual basis for you and your performance? Let us help! Click Here for a free consultation us.