What are the effects of excess salt on people’s health?

Salt, or sodium chloride, is an essential mineral for human health. It helps regulate fluid balance, nerve and muscle function, and blood pressure. However, consuming too much salt can have negative consequences for people’s health, both in the short and long term.

Some of the short-term effects of excess salt intake are water retention, increased thirst, and elevated blood pressure. Water retention occurs when the kidneys try to maintain a certain ratio of sodium to water in the body. This can cause swelling, especially in the hands and feet, and weight gain. Increased thirst is another way the body tries to dilute the excess sodium in the blood. Drinking more fluids can lead to more frequent urination, but also to dehydration if not enough water is consumed. Elevated blood pressure is a result of the increased blood volume and pressure caused by the excess sodium in the blood vessels. This can strain the heart and damage the arteries.

Some of the long-term effects of excess salt intake are enlarged heart muscle, headaches, kidney disease, osteoporosis, stroke, heart failure, and kidney stones. Enlarged heart muscle is a condition where the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the body. This can weaken the heart and increase the risk of heart failure. Headaches can be caused by dehydration or high blood pressure due to excess salt intake. Kidney disease can result from reduced blood flow to the kidneys or damage to the kidney cells by excess sodium. Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones become weak and brittle. Excess salt intake can increase calcium excretion in the urine, which can reduce bone density and increase fracture risk. Stroke is a condition where a blood vessel in the brain bursts or is blocked by a clot. High blood pressure due to excess salt intake can increase the risk of stroke by damaging the blood vessels in the brain or causing clots to form. Heart failure is a condition where the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. This can be caused by high blood pressure or enlarged heart muscle due to excess salt intake. Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals that form in the kidneys or urinary tract. Excess salt intake can increase the concentration of calcium and other minerals in the urine, which can promote kidney stone formation.

To prevent or reduce these effects of excess salt on people’s health, it is recommended that healthy adults consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which is equivalent to about one teaspoon of salt. People with high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, or other health conditions may need to consume even less sodium per day. Some ways to reduce salt intake are choosing fresh or minimally processed foods over processed or packaged foods, reading nutrition labels and choosing products with lower sodium content, using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods, and limiting or avoiding adding salt at the table or while cooking.

References:

– Healthline (2022). What Happens If You Eat Too Much Salt? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-happens-if-you-eat-too-much-salt
– Cleveland Clinic (2024). Why Too Much Salt Can Be Bad for You. Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-salt-bad-for-you
– American Heart Association (2023). Effects of Excess Sodium Infographic. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/effects-of-excess-sodium-infographic

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