We all hear that too much sodium is bad for you, and that the effects of sodium are specifically harmful to heart health.
But why? What does salt do to our bodily processes that harms us so much? And how much is too much?
While sodium is an important component for a functioning body, we only need 200 mg of sodium a day to reap the benefits.
Wildly enough, the average American goes way overboard and consumes an average of 3,436 mg daily. In fact, 9 out of 10 American consume more than necessary each day.
This is more than double the amount that the AHA recommends daily (1500 mg), and it’s at this point that over consumption becomes dangerous and harmful.
Knowing how too much salt negatively affects the rest of your body is important to being conscious of your sodium intake and your overall health! Here’s the overall process of excess sodium’s damage to bodily functions.
Step 1: Kidney Overload
Your kidneys are responsible for the difficult task of maintaining a delicate balance between sodium, potassium, and fluid levels in the body.
The kidneys use the process of osmosis to pull excess water out of the blood, excreting it by way of urination. However, excessive sodium leads to increased water retention.
The water stays with the extra sodium to make sure it is properly dissolved.
Damage to your kidneys can also occur due to salt and calcium build up that it too much to be dissolved by water. This damage typically manifests itself in the form of kidney stones.
Step 2) High Blood Pressure
Imagine a house full of people with a very small back door. Only one person can go through the back door at a time, but 20 people at a time continue to fill the house through the front door.
Eventually, the house becomes crowded. It gets warmer, and more stressful as there is more pressure for the house to accommodate more people despite the limited room.
Chances are, the walls of the house and the furniture will suffer some wear and tear from enduring such a high volume of people.
Similarly, this is how high blood pressure works when it comes to a sodium fluid balance, and what your kidneys are capable of filtering out.
Because excess sodium results in fluid retention since water needs to stay put and ensure the sodium is dissolved, there’s a lot of pressure on the kidneys to filter everything out — fast.
Excess fluid in the body results in increased blood volume. When there is more blood to be transported through the veins, the pressure against artery walls increases as things get “crowded”.
This pressure causes a lot of wear and tear on the arteries, damaging the inner lining of the artery walls and can lead to plaque build up, blood clots and other serious health concerns.
Step 3) Increased Risk
If high blood pressure goes untreated for too long, it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.
We now know the severe effects excess sodium can have on the cardiovascular system, but our bodily processes are never isolated from one another. Typically, one factor that damages one process is likely to damage many other parts of the body.
Excess sodium can result in:
Bloating: when tissues and capillaries are retaining fluid, they’ll become “puffier”, and sometimes cause noticeable bloating and weight gain.
Edema: This is similar to bloating, but it happens when small blood vessels leak and release fluids into surrounding tissue. The tissue then swells.
Brain Function: Studies show that an increase in sodium could be linked to a decrease in brain function.
Bone Deterioration: High sodium intake can cause the body to expel too much calcium. Calcium is crucial for bone growth, strength, and health. If too much calcium is being excreted by the body, bones weaken without the primary nutrient that builds them strong.
Stomach Ulcers: High sodium intake might damage the lining of the stomach, resulting in ulcers and other damage or irritation.
This graphic from Heart.org shows some of the effects excessive amounts of sodium can have on both our health and appearance:
If you’re like most Americans, you’re consuming way too much sodium. Most likely you’re getting all the excess sodium from eating out and pre-packaged foods, but also be aware of the following foods if you’re trying to limit the amount of sodium you consume:
To stay as healthy as possible, it’s important to stick to a low-sodium diet no matter your age. While you’re in the grocery store, read the nutrition labels on some of the foods you regularly purchase. Chances are you’ll be surprised to see how much sodium is included in many of the foods you eat.
Be sure you’re comparing sodium levels in the foods you’re purchasing.