I was looking the other day into more ways to prevent kidney stones than a few herbal teas I was aware of (among them, the famous cherry-stem tea), and, of course, found mention of excessive salt as one of the culprits for urinary tract calculi. That is because salt causes calcium to be excreted in your urine—so if you eat a lot of salt and you’re also prone to kidney stones, you may find that your body is forming calcium deposits as a consequence of your salt intake and other factors. And remember that the same mechanism of calcium excretion may also lead to osteoporosis.
As a side note, some researchers say that true teas may help prevent kidney stones, while others point to their oxalate content and advise against drinking true teas, in particular black tea, which has the highest oxalate levels, if you are prone to kidney stones. Now that I mentioned this, note that not all kidney stones are calcium oxalate calculi. They can also be uric acid stones—created as a consequence of a high-protein diet, or other conditions, such as diabetes—and other types.
But there’s more than one or two dangers hidden in excessive consumption of salt. I will briefly discuss some of them below, as part of Today’s Tip.
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Besides kidney stones, the biggie as regards excessive salt is that it leads to water retention, which increases blood volume and forces the arteries, and, in time, may cause them to harden and the body to develop high blood pressure (note that water retention is only one of the ways salt intake leads to hypertension). As most people know, high BP may cause heart disease and strokes. But what much fewer people pay attention to are two other ways excessive salt may impact the brain, besides affecting blood vessels as a result of high BP. In a nutshell, here’s what we know from studies on mice (here’s more about it):
1. Too much salt impairs an enzyme that produces nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps relax blood vessels, which leads to better flow of blood to the brain. With an insufficient blood flow, cognitive functions will suffer.
2. Too much salt affects tau proteins in nerve cells, which may cause them to tangle together and deteriorate the communication between neurons, a process that may lead to Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
Unrelated as it may seem, high levels of salt can also help cause weight gain and insulin resistance, along with nonalcoholic fatty liver and metabolic syndrome.
Too much salt also affects the immune system, increasing the risk of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and lupus.
Here’s more about the damaging effects of excessive salt, and about ways to reduce your sodium intake. Spices and seasonings can help (I’m a big fan of lime juice and ginger), checking labels is always advisable, even in the case of bread, and learning to cook more flavorful foods with less salt can be quite a boon. Also, as so many health writers say, myself among them, your taste buds will definitely adjust. And I know that not only from my readings but also because I can map quite a voyage of discovery and change in my taste buds to match my experiments with different ingredients. I even got to really like kombucha!
So how much salt is too much in a day? The FDA recommends less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day for adults, and the National Health Service in England no more than 6 grams (about one teaspoon, they both say, but I guess it’s actually less for US teaspoons, which tend to be larger). The World Health Organization recommends less than 5 grams per day.
That said, keep in mind that salt—sodium chloride—is an essential compound for our bodies, and it’s important to have salt in our food (and not just for the taste). If we’re healthy, balance is key, and if there are already some imbalances in our bodies, it’s best to discuss with our doctor(s) to learn how to best manage salt in our diet.
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If you already have prehypertension or stage 1 hypertension, the 30 foods presented on the reminder mug below may help lower your blood pressure levels. These foods are blueberries, broccoli, kiwis, ginger, peas, watermelon, spinach, and many others.
Here’s another blog post of mine, on Natural Ways That May Help Lower High Blood Pressure. Note that it’s directed at people with prehypertension (120–129 systolic pressure and less than 80 diastolic pressure) and stage 1 hypertension (130–139 systolic pressure or 80–89 diastolic pressure).
And here’s a salad containing several ingredients that may help fight high BP in its incipient stages (elevated BP and stage 1 BP): Sweet & Tango Spinach Apple Salad.
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To a healthier, happier life,