Salt

Salt Health Benefits and Side Effects

Salt is a common ingredient used for various purposes ranging from home uses as well as industrial uses. There is a vast quantity of salt present in sea water. Generally, it is essential for life because saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. Though, salt is commonly used as a seasoning ingredient in food, it is also used as a preservative to elongate the lifespan of food.

It has also been used in tanning, dyeing and bleaching, and the production of pottery, soap, and chlorine. Today, it is widely used in the chemical industry. It is amazing to know that the English word “salary” comes from the word “salt” as a result of the economic importance of this commodity.

Other uses of salt include water conditioning processes, de-icing highways, and agricultural use. Sea salt and table salt usually contains an anti-caking agent and may be iodized to prevent iodine deficiency. It is also present in many processed foods.

Salt is so important that the scarcity of it has led nations to go to war. Tax revenues has also been raised because of salt in the past. Salt has been a part and parcel of human history as it is used in religious ceremonies and has other cultural and traditional significance. As far back as 6,000 BC, people who dwelle in the present-day Romania extracted salts by boiling spring water.

The Hebrews also places premium on salt. They are not the only one who fancies salt; the Indians, Byzantines, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and the Hittites also fancies it. The Chinese also boasted of extracting salt around the 6,000 BC. Through the aid of Camel Caravans, salt was transported across the Sahara because it serves as an important trade commodity. It was also transported across the Mediterranean Sea with the aid of boats. Specially built roads have also been used in the past for the same purpose.

Sea salt and Table salt are however not exactly the same. Taste, texture and processing are the major factors that distinguishes between them. While sea salt is produced via evaporation of Ocean water or water from saltwater lakes, table water is produced differently. It is produced by mining it from underground salt deposits.

There is a little sophistication to the production of table salt. Additives are often added to ensure that it does not get clumped. Minerals are also eliminated from table salts. This contributes to the heavy processing it often undergoes. Table salts are also healthy because iodine is often added which has health benefits in form of maintenance of the thyroid.

The processing of salt water is very minimal. Once it is evaporated, the processing is over. The issue with this level of processing is that it retains elements and some minerals which makes sea salt have color and coarse. However, contrary to popular opinion, Sea salt is not healthier than table salt. They actually contain the same nutrient constituents. Their sodium content is basically the same; especially when compared base on weight.

Salt is a by-product of dead, living or dried up seas. It can be gotten in form of brine or salt licks and shallow caverns. Salt can be extracted from brine by boiling, shafts by mining and salt pans by evaporation. Salt became popular when human shifted from eating salt rich foods that are naturally found in the seas to cereals and other crops. A deficiency of salt in human diet resulted in the extraction of salt through various methods and in many parts of the world, salt has become an essential ingredient in cooking many dishes.

There are various routes through which salt has been transported across the globe. One of the most traveled routes is from Morocco South across the Sahara desert to Timbuktu. Salt has also been transported by ships from Egypt to Greece through the Mediterranean Sea and the Aegean.

In the early 6th century, Moorish merchants traded salt ounce for gold in the sub-Sahara desert. Also, in Abyssinia, slabs of rock salt was used a coin for trading. In Tibet, Ethiopia and some parts of Central Africa, cakes of salt were used as money.

Salt is used as flavor and a preservative as well as a good antiseptic. In ancient Rome, Roman soldiers’ pay which partly consisted of salt was known as “solarium argentum” from which the word “salary” was derived. Salt was also used to buy slaves in ancient Greece and Rome.

There are several varieties of salt and they include: iodized salt, kosher salt, black salt and rock salt. Iodized salt which is also known as table salt has additives like iodine and it is good for thyroid patients. It has fine granules and it is commonly used for home consumption. Iodized salt is also used as an anti-caking agent to prevent lumping.

Kosher salt is a coarse, granular salt which is additive free. It is sometimes preferred to table salt because it has a softer flavor. As a result of its large surface area, it dissolves easily without over salting and it is commonly used by butchers to draw blood easily from meat.

Black salt is a tanned salt which has a strong sulfuric flavor as a result of the addition of purified lava. It is commonly used as pickling salt. Rock salt is made up of discrete crystals and it is popularly used in ice creams because it brings down the freezing point.

The importance of salt cannot be overemphasized. Salt is one of the most important materials used in many industries because over 50% of the chemical products depend on it at one stage or another during their manufacture. It is used in the manufacturing of several commodities such as glass, textiles, PVC, paper and other domestic products. It is commonly used as a food ingredient and a de-icing agent.

Humans depend on the various sources of salt in food since the body is incapable of producing its own salt. About 7% of salt produced in Europe is food grade salt. In addition to salt being a preservative agent and a flavour, it plays a vital role in the manufacture of many foods such as bread and cheese.

Table salt, one of the common forms of salt, is made of two mineral elements – sodium and chloride. Your body needs a good amount of sodium in order to function properly. Sodium aids the proper functioning of your nerves and muscles. It also helps your body achieve the right balance of fluids. It is the function of the kidney to regulate the amount of sodium in your body. A build up of excess sodium in the blood leads to high blood pressure which can lead to other chronic health conditions.

Many people eat foods very high in sodium and this can be detrimental to health. It is important to note that eating foods low in sodium is one of the ways of healthy eating. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that most adults should not eat up 2.3 grams of sodium per day. This is equivalent to about one teaspoon of salt per day.

Some foods that appear to be healthy may contain high levels of sodium. To be on the safe side, you can buy unprocessed foods and vegetables as they are usually low in sodium. Most of the sodium you eat may come from processed, packaged, restaurant or in-store bought foods. In fact, it is possible that only a small percentage of your sodium intake comes from salt added during cooking or at the table.

More than 40% of the sodium consumed each day comes from bread, rolls, pizza, cheese, chicken, noodle soup and omelets. About 65% of sodium comes from foods bought in retail stores and about 25% comes from foods bought in restaurants. Sodium is already a part of processed food when you buy it and it can be impossible to remove. You will be surprised to find out that many food products that do not even taste salty have a considerable amount of sodium in them.

Salt is added to various foods in order to enhance flavor and make them more palatable, preserve freshness and increase shelf life, and improve texture and appearance.

Salt Health Benefits

Salt is essential for the control of fluid balance and the proper functioning of muscles and nerves. If you notice that you feel thirsty often, it can be an indication that high level of salt is being eliminated from your body by your kidneys.

Sea salt is considered to be more beneficial than table salt which has undergone processing.

Improves mental health

Salt baths help to boost energy levels by providing you with fresh and clean air. It reduces stress and anxiety levels by providing a clean and fresh atmosphere. It helps improve your peace of mind and soothes your mind. It is a powerful tool for alleviating anxiety and discomfort symptoms that can be attributed to everyday activities.

Prevents muscle pain

One of the minerals found in sea salt is potassium. It is essential for the proper functioning of the muscles and it relieves muscle pain and joint pain which can hinder exercising or the proper functioning of the body.

Maintains hydration

Sodium is a major component of salt. It is used by the body to maintain fluid levels. This balance of fluid and sodium is vital for the health of the heart, liver, and kidneys. Low blood pressure is prevented and body fluid is regulated by sodium.

You can add a natural salt such as sea salt to your water to create the hydration effect. By staying hydrated, you will feel more energetic. Add small amounts of sea salt to your water and enjoy optimal cellular functioning. Salts are electrolytes and they aid cell hydration. Your body needs salt to maintain proper functioning, growth and development.

Prevention of hypothyroidism

Iodine is an additive often present in table salts. It is important for the prevention of hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is the low production of thyroxine in the body. Thyroxine is the main hormone secreted into the bloodstream by the thyroid gland. It is the inactive form and most of it is converted to an active form called triiodothyronine by organs such as the liver and kidneys. They are tyrosine-based hormones that are primarily responsible for regulation of metabolism.

Prevention of endemic Goitre

A goitre is a swelling of the thyroid gland that causes a lump to form in the front of the neck. This can also be prevented by iodine which is often added to table salts.

Prevention of Cretinism in children

Cretinism is a stunted physical and mental growth condition. The consumption of table salt ensures that children are not at risk of this disease. This can be credited to the presence of iodine often added to table salts.

Avoidance of complications

When salt is not consumed as much as it ought to be consumed, it can lead to hyponatremia, and symptoms of dizziness, confusion, muscle twitches and seizures.

Prevention of Addison disease

Addison disease is adrenocortical insufficiency due to the destruction or dysfunction of the entire adrenal cortex. It affects glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid function. The onset of disease usually occurs when 90% or more of both adrenal cortices are dysfunctional or destroyed. The consumption of salt has been linked to be a viable preventive measure to prevent this disease.

Prevention of Blockage in the small intestine

Consumption of salt has also been linked with the prevention of blockage in the small intestine. Such blockage will be harmful to the body because it will affect the digestion of food. Diarrhea and vomiting are also prevented as a result of the consumption of salt.

Salt aids the process of digestion by stimulating the salivary glands. This in turn helps your body create digestive juices which aids fast and proper digestion. It aids the rapid absorption of food particles through the intestinal tract.  Salt also prevents constipation by avoiding a build-up in the digestive tract.

Prevention of Under active thyroid

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. It produces hormones that control the speed of your metabolism — the system that helps the body use energy. Thyroid disorders can slow down or rev up metabolism by disrupting the production of thyroid hormones. It has been proven that the consumption of salt prevents the thyroid from malfunctioning by being under active.

Prevention of Burns

The consumption of salt has also been linked with the prevention of heartburn. Heartburn is actually a symptom of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and is caused by acid reflux going back into the esophagus. Risk factors include those that increase the production of acid in the stomach, as well as structural problems that allow acid reflux into the esophagus.

Useful in maintaining a good oral health

Traditionally, salt is used as an alternative to toothpaste mostly in Africa. Salt water is used to rinse the mouth in a state of mild halitosis and therefore helps to mask the unpleasant odor coming out from the buccal cavity. It also has a natural cleansing agent which fights bacteria looking for a home to stay in the oral cavity. Some dentists also recommend salt water to patients in place of mouthwash because of the natural cleansing agent it contains. It also helps in fighting wounds in the mouth, gingivitis and mouth infections.

Salt is one of the ingredients used in making toothpastes and it is very vital in dental health. By adding a salt water rinse to your dental health, you can fight bad breath, sore throat, gum sores and many more. You can make homemade toothpaste by mixing sea salt and baking soda together in the ratio 2:1.

Salt water is a gentle healing aid after undergoing a dental procedure. It can also be used an emergency source of dental hygiene in case you do not have your regular mouthwash or toothpaste at hand. You can use it as a supplement to your daily oral hygiene routine.

Good for sleep

Natural sea salt helps in improving sleep because it constitutes some electrolytes like sodium and potassium that regulate hormones. However, table salt is not recommended for this purpose because it can disrupt the amount of electrolyte in the body. Hence, it is not advisable to take table salt before going to bed.

Salt deficiency in your diet can lead to shortage of water which can make your salivary glands produce more saliva. In case you have the problem of drooling while sleeping, it might be a result of salt deficiency. Drinking sea salt before sleeping can prevent the production of excess saliva by the salivary glands. Sea salt also enhances the production of serotonin and melatonin which can help you deal with stress hence, promoting quality sleep.

Helps with weight loss

Drinking sea salt solution acts a natural laxative and can help remove many toxins and aid weight loss. Weight loss is achieved by the removal of toxic materials in the digestive system and this can be achieved by sea salt. It facilitates quick digestion by producing digestive juices and this prevents build up in the digestive tract that can lead to weight gain and constipation.

Detoxifies

If you want to get rid of toxic wastes in your body, one of the easiest and fastest ways of doing this is to use salt water. It acts as a natural laxative that rids your body of impurities in your gastrointestinal tract. Sea salt is preferable to processed salt whenever you want to flush toxins from your body. You can either drink salt water or take salt baths.

Salt baths help to detoxify your skin by opening up your skin pores. This will aid the proper penetration of the minerals and enhance deep cleansing. Salt baths remove toxic wastes from your body and gives your skin a young and healthy look.

Boosts energy levels

Salt in form of sea salt is a very good therapeutic substance. Sea salt keeps you energized because it supports your adrenal glands. If you suffer from low blood pressure or you are prone to feeling dizzy or tired when you are standing, a small amount of salt may improve your health. You can either lick a pinch of salt or add it to your water the next time you feel a drop in your energy level.

By drinking a small amount of salt water, you can help in balancing your salt levels. Salt contains electrolytes like sodium that serve as pumps in the body. For example, Sodium-Potassium pump helps in the breakdown of ATP to generate the needed energy. This energy also serves as power source for other systems of the body to be at work.

Helps fight acne

Salt is usually used in soaps, masks and cleansers to fight acne – a chronic skin condition characterized by blackheads, pimples, inflammation on the face and neck which causes reddening and scarring. Sea salt contains sulfur which helps to keep your skin smooth. It possesses astringent property which causes it to tighten the skin pores hence, forcing out the dead skin cells and unclogging the pores. This helps in forcing the bacteria out of the skin pores and treating acne.

Sea salt can be used to fight of cold virus, flu and other immune-related diseases. Salt can be used to reduce inflammation and also strengthen your immune system.

Good for diabetics

Sea salt is highly beneficial for diabetic patients or people who are prone to diabetes. It can help reduce the need for insulin in the body by maintaining proper blood sugar levels in the body. However, it is important to limit the amount of salt you consume if you are diabetic because too much salt can lead to a rise in your blood pressure which can increase your risk of heart diseases, stroke and kidney disease.

To reduce salt intake in your diet, cut back on table salt and opt for sea salt. Buy foods marked low sodium, use herbs and spices to flavor your foods and eat plenty fruits and vegetables.

Salt Side Effects and Detriments

The consumption of excessive salt can have a negative impact on your blood pressure. It can also lead to retention of water and other fluids in your body. The higher the amount of salt you consume, the higher your blood pressure and risk to other related health problems.

An increase in your blood pressure can result in greater strain on your heart, kidneys and arteries among others. This in turn can lead to higher chances of stroke, kidney disease and heart attacks.

By eating too much salt, you can neutralize the effects of diuretics if you are on medications for high blood pressure.

May cause kidney disease

Over consumption of salt can lead to retention of water in your body. The build up of water in your body can lead to an increase in your blood pressure and this can result in a strain on your kidneys, arteries and heart. By eating too much salt, you are increasing your risk of kidney disease.

The kidneys filter unwanted fluid from your blood and pass it to the bladder where it is removed as urine. The process by which your kidneys do the filtration is known as osmosis. A balance of sodium and potassium is needed for the removal of the unwanted fluid from the bloodstream and this fluid is collected in a channel that leads to the bladder. A disruption of the balance can be caused by excessive consumption of salt and this can reduce the ability of the kidneys to remove the excessive fluid in the bloodstream.

This results in an increase in blood pressure due to the retention of fluid and strain on the blood vessels that lead to the kidneys. Over time, the accumulation of fluid can lead to kidney disease. And if this kidney disease is untreated and the blood pressure is not lowered, it can result in kidney failure.

Cardiovascular diseases

Excessive consumption of salt has been linked to the increase in the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, especially in in children. Adults are also at risk.

Researchers in the 1980s carried out an experiment involving more than 10,000 adults from 32 countries. In this experiment, they measured the amount of sodium excreted over a 24-hour period (a good stand-in for salt intake). They discovered that the average was nearly 4,000 milligrams of sodium daily.

It was observed that the range was huge, from 200 milligrams a day among the Yanomamo people of Brazil to 10,300 milligrams in northern Japan. It was observed that the populations with the higher blood pressures with age were the populations with higher salt consumption. It was also observed that the four groups of people—the four countries with salt intakes under 1,300 milligrams per day—had low average blood pressures and little or no upward trend of blood pressure with age.

In another experiment in the late 1980s and early 1990s, two Trials of Hypertension Prevention (TOHP) were conducted. They evaluated the effect lifestyle changes has on blood pressure, including weight loss, stress management, nutritional supplements, and consumption of less sodium. It could be observed from each of the studies that minimal reduction in blood pressure occurred with reduction of sodium over the 18 to 36 months the trials lasted.

The researchers surveyed the participants years after the trials had ended and discovered that the TOHP participants in the sodium-reduction groups were 25 percent less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke, to have needed a procedure to open or bypass a cholesterol-clogged coronary artery, or to have died of cardiovascular disease after an average of 10–15 years.

Excessive eating of salt can cause strain on the arteries. In order to cope with the strain, the muscles in the arteries become thicker and this makes the space inside the arteries become smaller hence, an increase in blood pressure.

An increase in blood pressure can result in gradual thickening of the arteries which can lead to arteries burst or arteries clog. This will have a negative impact on the organs of the body that rely on the blood supply from the arteries and this can result in organ damage which can pose a serious danger to health.

Kidney stone

Excessive consumption of salt has also been linked to Kidney stones as a result of the sodium content of salt. Your kidneys aid the removal of waste products, balance fluid levels and control the production of red blood cells in your body. However, things become different with a high salt intake and high blood pressure combined, this can be lethal to your kidneys. According to an article published in Blood Pressure UK, this reduces your kidneys’ ability to filter out unwanted toxins.

Edema

Edema can be responsible for the swelling of the knees or feet and even your hands. A research study that retention of water by the body can be linked to a high sodium diet. Depending on the severity, it may be treated with either a change in diet or prescription medication.

Impairs brain function

Health and Aging, high dietary sodium intake has been linked to hypertension and cardiovascular disease (CVD) according to the Journal of Nutrition. The study also shows that a high dietary sodium intake may impair cognitive function in older people.

May cause bloating

Excessive consumption of salt can make you feel bloated. According to a report by Health24, high sodium foods, usually processed foods, can lead to the retention of water by the body. It is highly recommended that you read your food labels and refrain from adding salt, rather adding herbs or spices for flavor.

Stomach cancer

Your stomach will not be benefited by the over consumption of processed foods. According to Consensus Action on Salt & Health, lessen your bacon, sausages, high in salt and hidden fats can reduce your risk of stomach cancer.

Heart failure and heart attacks

The kidneys have trouble keeping up with the excess sodium in the bloodstream. As sodium accumulates, the body holds onto water to dilute the sodium. This increase both the amount of fluid surrounding cells and the volume of blood in the bloodstream. Increased blood volume means more work for the heart and more pressure on blood vessels. Over time, the extra work and pressure can stiffen blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. It can also lead to heart failure.

An increase in blood pressure which is caused by an excessive intake of salt can result in arteries damage which can cause heart attack. If the cells in the heart do not receive enough oxygen and nutrients as a result of arteries clog or damage, this can result in heart attack.

Arteries clog or damage will result in the inability of parts of the heart from receiving blood and this will lead to heart attack because the heart will be unable to receive oxygen and other important nutrients. In order to avoid a heart attack, it is advisable to reduce your blood pressure by slowing down the consumption of salt.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Sodium should be limited to less than 2,300 milligrams daily. The American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends that not more than 2.3 grams (g) or 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day, or around 1 teaspoon, and preferably no more than 1,500 mg of salt should be consumed daily.

Salt is an important material that serves various purposes. It can serve flavour, preservative, anti-caking agent and it is one of the most important material used in many industries. It has numerous benefits and a couple of side effects.

Here’s the full list of the health benefits of salt:

  1. Aids Proper Digestion
  2. Beneficial to Diabetic Patients
  3. Aids Sleep
  4. Facilitates Weight Loss
  5. Relieves Muscle Pain
  6. Aids Dental Health
  7. Improves Mental Health
  8. Keeps You Hydrated
  9. Boosts Energy Levels
  10. Helps Fight Acne
  11. Enhances Detoxification
  12. Boosts Immune System

Here’s the list of side effects of salt:

  1. Can Cause Kidney Disease
  2. Affects the Arteries
  3. Can Cause Heart Attack

Lending further credence to this is the recommendation of the World Health Organization who posits that adults should consume less than 2,000 mg of sodium, equivalent to 5 grams of salt per day. Hence, whether it is Sea salt or table salt you prefer, you should endeavor to be moderate with the way you consume it.

Salt is an ingredient most commonly known for its use as a food seasoning. It is however used for other purposes industrially too. It is an important economic and cultural commodity that has been a part and parcel of human history. Salt has various health benefits which have been discussed.

However, there are also harmful effects of salt which has also been discussed. It has been noted that the major reason for the side effects is as a result of excessive consumption of salt. Hence, in order to fully maximize the health benefits of salt and minimize the harmful effects, you have to be moderate with the way you consume it.

As much as salt has many benefits, it is highly advisable to cut down your salt intake if you are diabetic, prone to diabetes or have high blood pressure. Also, you can swap your table salt for sea salt because sea salt is less salty and it has a delicate flavor.

Articles and Sources

1. Antioxid Redox Signal. (2011 November 15) Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease



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