Too little salt damages the body as much as it does too much, at least a current study by the Canadian internist Salim Yusuf from McMaster University suggests. A Health ABC study published in January comes to the same conclusion.
According to Yusuf, not only does too much salt increase the risk of suffering a stroke, but too little, he draws this conclusion from a Pure study with 101,945 participants from 19 countries.
Salt is vital
Sodium chloride, our table salt, is vital. Sodium is a building block of the blood and enables cell metabolism. Chloride is an elemental substance in gastric acid. Without salt, the bone structure suffers, as does digestion, water balance and the nervous system.
Animal salt licks
Animals also bring salt to their bodies: elephants like horses, cattle like deer. Salt is the only substance that a wide variety of animal species feed on from the outside - by eating earth or licking salt stones.
Salt, for example, is necessary so that deer can develop their antlers. Predators such as wild cats or wolves consume enough sodium through the blood and flesh of their prey.
Mother animals need a lot of salt during the rearing period because they lose sodium through the milk. Fur change also leads to a lack of salt in the metabolism.
So people need salt so that the balance of liquids and nutrients in the cells is maintained. Healthy people have around 200 grams of salt in their own bodies, as we can easily tell when we cry or sweat.
If we sweat or cry a lot, we need to add salt to the body.
Salt on the wounds
Too much salt damages our immune system and thus blocks wound healing, Berlin researchers said in 2015.
However, animals store salt in infectious tissue, and there it strengthens the macrophages, they white blood cells that kill the causative agents of the inflammation, and every local on the North Sea knows that wounds heal better in salt water.
How much salt do we need?
Is salt unhealthy or healthy? The answer is: Sodium chloride generally not only promotes health, but is just as necessary as carbohydrates, fats or protein.
Scientists agree on this. But they are discussing how much salt a person needs. In Germany, most doctors recommend consuming 5.0 g of salt, which is about 2 teaspoons. The American Heart Association (AHA) even recommends 3.8 g salt or 1.5 g sodium per day to avoid heart attacks or strokes. However, the Germans consume an average of around 9 g daily, and many 15 g or more.
Heart and kidney specialists, however, are questioning the American standards, as there are hardly any valid studies that show that reduced salt consumption lowers the risk of heart attacks. Studies from the 1990s and 2000s contradicted each other as to what risk of heart attacks and strokes is associated with high salt consumption.
Salim Yusuf, who warns today that salt consumption is too low, said back in 2013 that people from Asia, in particular, who consumed far more than two teaspoons of salt a day were at high risk of stroke, not Americans or Europeans.
Cardiologists like Franz Eberli from Zurich confirm Yusuf. Our genetic dispositions set the course for how much salt we can take. In people with a hereditary predisposition to an increased sensitivity to salt, salt in higher amounts than two teaspoons per day increases blood pressure. Chronically elevated blood pressure in turn narrows the vessels with the possible consequence of a heart attack or stroke.
Not only individuals and blood relatives have such a genetic disposition, but also ethnic groups. According to Eberli, people from tropical Africa and Asia have a significantly more common genetic predisposition to salt sensitivity than Europeans.
Not enough salt
According to Yusuf, study participants who consumed less than three grams of salt a day were more likely to get heart disease and strokes. What causes salt amounts to be sensitive to salt is therefore the result of a lack of salt in “normal people”: if there is a lack of salt, the body probably releases hormones that raise blood pressure.
Where is the middle?
Yusuf has no doubt that extremely high salt consumption favors strokes - but a lack of salt also does. According to him, moderate salt consumption is healthier than less.
Accordingly, subjects who ingested four to five grams of salt daily had the least risk. Dying from cardiovascular disease less than three grams increased the risk.
High blood pressure
In healthy people, the risk increased only when the salt consumption was too low, but not when the salt consumption was high. However, the situation is different for clients with high blood pressure: for them, the risk of cardiovascular diseases increased with too little and too much salt.
In short, the bottom line is: In people without salt sensitivity, there is no connection between high salt consumption and cardiovascular diseases, but there is certainly a connection between low salt consumption and such complaints.
However, people with high blood pressure, that is 5% of the population, are exposed to an increased risk with salt consumption of more than 6 grams per day.
Salt, i.e. sodium and chloride, do not work in isolation. Therefore, the question "too much or too little salt" is often a sham discussion.
The tip of swimming in the sea with small injuries and then drying yourself in the sun does not automatically refer to salt as a healing source. Heat, water and trace elements can also play a role.
Similar combined effects also apply in the negative: What about someone who consumes a lot of salt with the other lifestyle? Finished products with a lot of salt, such as potato chips or canned soups, usually lack vitamins, they contain a lot of unsaturated fats and simple carbohydrates, i.e. a lot of sugar.
Patients who consume many such finished products with "hidden salt" usually do not exercise enough and use harmful stimulants such as alcohol and cigarettes.
In pregnant women, a lack of salt is just as problematic as a lack of other nutrients that the fetus urgently needs for its development. Babies with a low birth weight often also have a low sodium content.
Old people who have been consuming very little salt for a long time are more likely to break their hips and suffer mental abilities.
The WHO recommends not taking more than five grams of salt a day.
Little has been researched into how sodium and chloride affect the body. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)