Salt (sodium chloride) is absolutely essential for the human body; without it we cannot sustain life. It supports hydration; assists with adrenal function; regulates blood pressure; maintains cell membranes, balance in pH and blood volume; prevents insulin resistance and arterial plaque formation; helps you cope better with stress and may even increase life expectancy.
It is also needed to support strong muscles and is critical for absorbing other vital nutrients and for the transmission between nerve cells (firing of neurons), which means it plays an important role in neurotransmitter functioning and consequently managing anxiety, reducing cravings for sugar and carbs, balancing Gaba and glutamate and other neurotransmitters, and good mental health overall. If one were to experience a true deficiency in sodium, they would experience brain swelling, coma, and heart failure.
In their book, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living, Drs. Volek and Phinney explain that the amount of carbs that are present in the diet heavily influences our need for salt. When you eat a high carb diet, the kidneys will retain salt; thus, this may be one of the reasons why much of the population is under the belief that it may be bad for you, but when you eat a low-carb diet such as presented on this website, the kidneys excrete salt and water more rapidly. According to Phinney & Volek, if you consume less than 60 grams of carbs per day, an additional two to three grams of sodium are required daily to compensate for this loss, unless you are taking diuretic medication for blood pressure or fluid retention. If one exercises hard or for a prolonged period, then one of those grams needs to be consumed within the hour before exercise. Even if your carb intake is above 60 grams per day and you feel faint, lightheaded, or fatigued with exercise, they suggest salt may need to be increased.
If one does not increase their salt intake on a low-carb diet, then the loss of sodium will “compromise circulation” which can result in a wide variety of unpleasant symptoms like light headedness when you stand up too quickly, feeling faint, weakness, and fatigue, which is at its worse if you exercise long enough to get warmed up, as well as headaches and constipation.
Having adequate sodium in the diet is also very important to support the adrenal glands, which are typically very taxed in the individual with Candida, anxiety disorders, depression, adrenal fatigue, sleep issues, chronic stress, dysautonomia, and more. First it helps regulate aldosterone, one of the vital hormones produced by the adrenals that manages blood pressure, potassium and sodium levels and kidney function. When adrenal function is impaired, aldosterone may be low, which results in a loss of sodium through the urine and retention of potassium, thus an imbalance in your sodium and potassium levels. Some individuals may also have a genetic polymorphism that impairs aldosterone function and can be improved with salt intake as well. Furthermore, vitamin C which is critical for the adrenal glands to produce its hormones cannot be delivered adequately to the adrenal glands without ample levels of salt.
When aldosterone is low, blood pressure will also be low, and if aldosterone goes too high then blood pressure will go high. Thus, why many people with adrenal fatigue have low blood pressure. Ironically, when the diet is too low in salt, the body will increase release of aldosterone and an enzyme called renin, which increases blood pressure. Furthermore, several very large studies have found that reducing salt intake does not decrease the risk of stroke or heart attack or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. As a matter of fact, some of the studies demonstrated that lower levels of sodium were associated with higher risk of dying and heart disease and that the more salt one consumed the less likely they were to die from heart disease. Additionally, reducing one’s salt intake has a very minimal impact on blood pressure. Turns out that advice to reduce salt intake was based on questionable, flawed, and unsubstantial data and observations. So, the long held believe that salt causes high blood pressure, strokes, and heart disease may not be true at all.
However, there is a small percentage of the population that may be hypersensitive to salt, and in this case, salt will cause an increase in blood pressure. These individuals do need to be more cautious with their intake. On the other hand, there are other factors to take into consideration as well that can impact the effect salt has on the body like fructose consumption, potassium levels, processed foods, stress and alcohol consumption.
For example, consumption of fructose increases the kidney’s absorption of sodium and increases blood pressure. Insufficient levels of potassium will be unable to keep sodium in balance. Equally important to keep balance between sodium and potassium and assist with blood pressure is magnesium. Most people eating a SAD diet are not consuming enough potassium or magnesium. Most people are acquiring their salt from processed food not natural sources so it is this combination that may be at the root of the problem. A higher level of stress and alcohol consumption which are both well known to increase blood pressure may make one more sensitive to salt.
Therefore, ensuring the diet has adequate levels of potassium (found in red meat, avocados, chard), magnesium (found in dark green leafy vegetables) managing your stress, avoiding alcohol, fructose and processed foods, all of which you should already be doing to optimize your health, may be just as important for reducing one’s risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.
In an evolutionary context, our Paleolithic ancestors were not mining salt to sprinkle on their food as we do today. However, evidence does suggest that the diet may have contained a substantial amount of naturally occurring salt from seafood like shellfish, which was a common staple at the time and that coastal dwellers often dipped their food into salty seawater and used dried seawater salt. Aboriginal cultures would drink the blood from freshly killed animals that was a rich source of sodium. So, salt has been with us for a long time in one form or another.
However, conventional table salt should not be consumed, because all its vital nutrients are removed and you are left with nothing but sodium chloride, then bleach, aluminum, and ferrocyanide (all toxic chemicals that can inhibit neurotransmitter function that leads to an increase in anxiety and stress, cravings for carbs and sugar, weaken the immune system, and degrade the integrity of the gut) are added during the refining process. Furthermore, sugar is often added to salt as well as a flowing agent.
It is refined conventional salt that can lead to disease and make the body too acidic; not pure, organic, and unrefined salt. Pure and unrefined salt is rich in many health enhancing minerals, (more than 50) which will be demonstrated by being pink or grey in color and is much coarser than refined salt. My favorite brand is called Real Salt, which is obtained from salt beds in Utah. Himalayan salt is another healthy choice. Even a lot of a sea salt is refined and polluted with chemicals, so you must be cautious when purchasing. If it is fine and white in color, it should be avoided.
What about iodine? Regular table salt is iodized but we avoid regular table salt for the reasons just discussed. Other types of salt (Real Salt, Himalayan Salt, Sea Salt, etc.) all have small amounts of naturally occurring iodine. Iodine can also be found the following foods:
- Saltwater fish and seafood (but not an option for the high histamine individual)
- Kelp and other sea vegetables or seaweed (but not an option for the high histamine individual)
- Dairy (only butter, ghee, and heavy cream are acceptable for the high histamine or high glutamate individual)
- Liver (but not an option for the high histamine individual)
If there is an iodine deficiency, then one may want to consider iodine supplementation, but talk to your doctor about this first.
Like most aspects of diet, the amount of salt that is best for one individual may not be the case for another and too much or too little may lead to problems. If you are eating a low-carb Paleo diet, as I hope you are, then you will have removed all the foods that will contain refined salt and be acquiring your sodium from natural sources. Therefore, salting to taste should not put one at risk of excess intake.
A bare minimum of 500 mg of sodium (about 1.25 grams of salt) per day is required to sustain life, but the research suggests that in most cases health is supported the greatest with somewhere between 3000 and 6000 mg of salt per day. If you eat a low-carb diet (less than 60 grams per day), have adrenal fatigue or are really active and/or sweat a lot, then your need may be greater. If on the other hand, you have a sedentary lifestyle or are sensitive to salt, your need may be lower. Sodium intake should be gauged according to the unique biochemical needs of each individual. But as always consult with your health care provider before making any changes in diet.
Want to learn more about the foods that I eat to alleviate anxiety and stress, support adrenal and gut health, overcome cravings for sugar and carbs, reduce microbial overgrowth and inflammation, sleep better, balance Gaba and glutamate and other neurotransmitters, and elevate health and well-being overall, then take a look at my eBook How to Balance Gaba and Glutamate with Diet and start making real progress today.
If you need more in-depth help, I provide a diet audit, personalized tips for your conditions, and PDF guidelines in my Higher Level of Health Coaching Program, so you can clear up any confusion you may have.
Jeff Volek PhD, RD and Stephen Phinney, M.D, PhD. The Art and Science of Low Carb Living. Beyond Obesity, LLC. May 2011.
Mark Sisson, Mark’s Daily Apple, Salt: What is it Good For?
Melinda Wenner Moyer. Its Time to End the War on Salt. Scientific American. Jul 8, 2011
Mark Sisson. Mark’s Daily Apple. Salt and Blood Pressure.
Dr. Al Sears. Cardiologists Bungle Blood Pressure. https://www.alsearsmd.com/2014/09/cardiologists-bungle-blood-pressure/
Dr. Joseph Mercola. Low Salt is Bad for Heart Health