High Sodium: Why is it Dangerous to Consume Too Much Sodium?
I hate to say it, but we as Americans have taken the idiom, “take it with a grain of salt” a little too literally. Americans are consuming WAY too much sodium. Did you know that only 1 in 10 Americans consumes the recommended 2300 milligrams (equivalent to about 1 tsp.) or less of sodium per day? The average American actually consumes around 3,400 milligrams per day. Now, these are numbers you’ll want to pay attention too. Why you ask? This tiny, less than one millimeter, crystallized rock, has been labeled as the culprit that pilots the 1st and 3rd leading causes of death in the United States, those being heart disease and stroke. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), greater than 800,000 thousand people die each year of diseases and complications associated with vascular issues, most of which are directly tied to too much sodium in the diet.
Why Do We Need Sodium Anyway?
Sodium actually does play a critical role in proper body functioning, carrying out the following tasks within our bodies:
• Influences relaxation and contraction of muscles
• Helps to maintain the appropriate balance of fluids in the body
• Helps to transmit nerve impulses
How is a High Sodium Diet Tied So Closely to Our Blood Pressure?
Sodium and blood pressure work like this: Our kidneys work hard to maintain the balance of sodium within our body for our best possible health. When our levels of sodium are too low, the kidneys hold on the sodium we have stored. When we have high sodium levels, the kidneys work to help us excrete any excess in our urine. Sounds like we are good to go then right? Wrong! If the kidneys can’t rid the body of enough sodium because of the sheer volume being consumed, sodium starts to accrue in the blood. Because sodium draws and holds water, blood volume will increase. When blood volume increases, your heart has to work much harder the get the blood through the vessels and to its destination, which puts much more pressure on the arteries, therefore leading to high blood pressure. So why is this so bad?
Normally arteries are strong, elastic, and flexible. The lining is smooth allowing blood to flow freely, easily and effectively transporting needed nutrients and oxygen to vital tissues and organs. High blood pressure, however, wreaks havoc on the blood vessels of the body gradually and silently causing a whole slew of DANGEROUS and SERIOUS potential problems, without you suspecting a thing until damage has already been done.
Too Much Sodium Symptoms: Signs that Sodium in Diet May Be Too High
Sometimes you might experience symptoms that indicate your body is trying to send you a message that you may be overdoing it in the sodium department. However, because the effects of high sodium in the diet can be a “silent killer” often causing a person to never suspect a problem, it is best to monitor sodium intake and have blood pressure checked regularly with your doctor.
• Thirst: one of the very first signs that may indicate an imbalance caused by too much sodium is feeling very thirsty. The body is signaling for you to acquire more fluid to help balance out the electrolytes in the body and correct the abnormality.
• Fluid Retention: When sodium levels get too high, it can cause retention of fluid leaving the person feeling bloated and completely uncomfortable. Common places for this swelling to manifest itself are the feet, ankles, face, and abdomen, though bloating may occur other places as well. This is another way in which the body tries to correct the problem, but will not succeed as long as the sodium levels continue to stay elevated.
• Changes in Urination: Paying attention to urine production is one way you can detect if you’re accumulating too much salt. The body will retain water in an effort to compensate for imbalance of electrolyte concentrations, therefore decreasing urine output, and changing the color to a darker yellow, showing that it is more concentrated with decreased water being excreted.
• High Blood Pressure: Sodium and hypertension (high blood pressure) unfortunately go hand in hand with hypertension being one of the main high sodium symptoms as well as the most threatening. This is an indication that you are definitely at risk for heart disease, stroke and other blood vessel problems. The increased sodium, which led to increased water retention, has now led to increased blood volume which the heart is forced to pump through the vessels, wreaking havoc on the blood vessels and making the heart work much harder than it should. Are you ready for list of possible troubles that high blood pressure could send your way? You better clear your schedule for the next little bit cause this could take awhile:
Damage to your arteries including narrowing in the blood vessels potentially blocking the flow of blood to your heart, brain, kidney, and legs as well as aneurism, or weakened and potentially bulging area of an artery which runs the risk of rupturing leading to life-threatening internal bleeding.
Damage to your heart including coronary artery disease (arteries that supply blood to the heart), leading to chest pain, heart attack, and arrhythmias; enlarged left heart caused by heart working extra hard to pump blood through the body, leading to increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death; heart failure brought on over time from increased workload on heart causing it to become weakened and less efficient.
Damage to your brain including TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) or mini-stroke caused by a temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain; an actual stroke, caused by clots as well as damaged and weakened blood vessels of the brain (when this occurs part of the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients resulting in the death of brain cells); and some types of mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
Damage to your kidneys including kidney failure caused by damage to larger arteries that lead to the kidneys as well as the smaller vessels within the kidneys; kidney scarring which refers to damage of the glomeruli, or tiny blood vessel clusters responsible for filtering fluid and waste from the blood; and kidney artery aneurism which is a bulge in an artery leading to the kidney, which could potentially rupture leading to internal bleeding.
Damage to your eyes including eye blood vessel damage, fluid build-up under the retina, and nerve damage or optic neuropathy, all of which can lead to vision impairment and blindness.
Sexual dysfunction including erectile dysfunction for men, and decreased blood flow to the vagina for women leading to decreased arousal, vaginal dryness or difficulty achieving an orgasm, all of which lead to anxiety and possible relationship issues.
Bone Loss due to an increased amount of calcium in urine.
Trouble sleeping due to a type of sleep apnea brought on by high blood pressure.
High Sodium Intake? The Culprits May Surprise You!
As much as it may seem like salty snacks like chips or pretzels should be the main culprit for increased sodium in the diet, those items are actually at the bottom of a top ten list. That being said, you may need to rethink the things you eat and reassess what may be causing high sodium intake in your diet. More than 40% of all American sodium intake comes from these 10 sources.
1. Breads and rolls. 2. Cold cuts and cured meats. 3. Pizza. 4. Poultry. 5. Soups (especially canned). 6. Sandwiches/Burgers. 7. Cheese. 8. Pasta mixed dishes (canned especially high). 9. Meat mixed dishes (like meatloaf with tomato sauce). 10. Salty snacks (like chips and pretzels).
Too Much Sodium in Diet? Cut Back Gradually
If you have acquired a strong relationship with salt, don’t worry, it is possible to still enjoy food with less. If you decrease your use of salt and consumption of high sodium foods gradually your taste buds will adjust and learn to appreciate the true flavor of the food. In time, you probably won’t even miss the salt and foods will taste too salty for you. It is also a good idea to get in the habit of reading labels so you are fully aware of what is going into your body. It’s likely there is a “lower sodium” version of some of your favorite foods.
Summing It Up
Our overconsumption of sodium has become a huge problem in our country and we are paying for it with our lives. Though we do need some salt for our bodies to function properly, the overkill amount consumed by Americans is a precursor to high blood pressure which causes heart disease and stroke, the 1st and 3rd leading causes of death in America, respectively.
Bottom line: Please consume less things “with a grain of salt”-Your body will thank you forever!
Americans Consume Too Much Sodium (Salt) (Updated February 24, 2011). Retrieved on May 20, 2012 from http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsSodium/
Americans Getting Too Much Sodium, But Not From Salty Snacks. (2012). Retrieved on May 20, 2012 from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57373179-10391704/americans-getting-too-much-sodium-but-not-from-salty-snacks/
High Blood Pressure Dangers: Hypertension’s Effects on Your Body. (Updated August 2, 2011). Retrieved on May 20, 2012 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-pressure/HI00062
Hypernatremia. (Last Modified May 17, 2012) Retrieved on May 21, 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypernatremia
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