SODIUM AND SALT-EATING
by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© April 2013, The Center For Development
Many health authorities advise against eating salt. My experience, however, is that if one eats a diet of natural foods high in magnesium and only uses sea salt, most people will not have difficulty with salt at all. In fact, natural sea salt is a very healthful product that most people need more of to supply many important trace minerals.
It is true that sea salt has some mercury and other toxic metals in it. However, the high trace mineral content of the sea salt is so helpful for most people that at this time I still recommend sea salt.
This article discusses the differences between refined and natural
salt, salt and magnesium, metabolic types and their sodium needs, salt and high
blood pressure, monosodium glutamate and what to do if you are salt-sensitive.
WHAT IS NATURAL SEA SALT?
History. Humanity has been eating unrefined salt for thousands of years. The word 'salary' comes from the same root as the word salt because it was such a valuable commodity it was used for currency. Salt is more important in hot climates, where significant amounts of sodium are lost in sweating.
Sources. Most unrefined sea salt usually comes from salt mines. It is washed and strained. It is called sea salt as the mines were usually former sea beds. A few brands such as Celtic Salt are harvested from the sea. This is a good product, but products harvested from the sea are much higher in some toxic metals such as mercury that is found in the oceans today, but was not in the oceans as much millions of years ago when the salt beds were formed.
Effects. Natural salt is generally a very healthful product. Unrefined sea salt is an important source of minerals. This is especially today, as the food supply is mineral-deficient due to hybrid crops, modern agriculture methods and food processing and refining.
Unrefined salt has little or no effect on blood pressure. It helps maintain electrolyte and osmotic balance. It also has an alkalinizing effect on the body and is an extremely yang food in Chinese medical terminology.
The sodium it contains is critical for osmotic balance and to solubilize other minerals in the blood. Deficiency of sodium causes other minerals to become biounavailable and precipitate into the soft tissues and elsewhere.
All the above are very positive reasons to eat salt on food. Avoiding a quality unrefined sea salt is rarely necessary, and often harmful since it is a source of vital minerals. I recommend quality sea salt for almost everyone. Most tolerate it well with no adverse effects, when used properly in moderate amounts only. Those with very high blood pressure may need to wait until their pressure drops, although a quality sea salt may actually assist in diminishing their blood pressure.
IODINE ENRICHMENT OF SALT
Partly due to the insane practice or refining table salt, the government forces salt companies to enrich all table salt with iodine. This is a positive benefit of table salt, but the only benefit. See below for more on refined or table salt.
WHAT IS TABLE SALT?
Common table salt is a highly refined product and one of the worst junk foods. Virtually all its the trace minerals are missing, so that it is almost pure sodium chloride. The trace minerals are removed and sold separately. This profits the salt company and leaves our bodies impoverished. This product should be banned completely, and our health would be far better.
Its unbalanced mineral content actually causes more mineral imbalances, as it is too high in sodium and very low in calcium and magnesium, two vital minerals today that can be obtained to a degree from salt.
If mineral depletion is not bad enough, common table salt often has aluminum, a toxic metal, added as a flowing agent. It is also often bleached for whiteness with other toxic chemicals. It is an unbalanced, toxic product that should be totally avoided.
SALT AND MAGNESIUM
One of the most important minerals missing from refined table salt is magnesium. Magnesium is required for over 1000 enzymes in our bodies, and is deficient in most people's diets.
Magnesium is sadly missing from most refined foods. Milling wheat to make white flour removes 85% of the magnesium. Refining sugar cane to make white sugar removes 98% of the magnesium. White flour, white sugar and refined table salt are unfortunately “staples” of the American diet and more and more common in other nations as well.
Magnesium has a balancing effect on sodium. Magnesium has a relaxing influence on the heart, which is one reason a shot of magnesium it is often the first “drugs” given during a heart attack.
Magnesium and blood pressure. The blood pressure-raising effect of table salt can be due to its high content of sodium with not enough magnesium to balance it. This has a magnesium-lowering effect that can constrict the arteries and raise blood pressure.
Sea salt contains plenty of magnesium, which is why it usually does not affect blood pressure at all, or does so much than table salt and should be eaten by most people. Also, If one's magnesium status is adequate because one has other food sources of magnesium, salt-eating will have less effect or no effect on blood pressure. However, other food sources of magnesium are rare, which is why everyone on a nutritional balancing program receives a magnesium supplement.
ARE THE MINERALS IN SALT BIOLOGICALLY AVAILABLE?
Some people claim that since salt is not a live food, one cannot obtain the minerals from salt. This is simply not true. The minerals may not be as bioavailable as they are in foods, and this is true. However, the body has quite an ability to chelate or bind inorganic minerals, especially those found in some sea salts.
For this reason, eating some sea salt every day is a wonderful and necessary means of supplementing one’s mineral intake. One must, however, have healthy digestion and a low stomach pH to absorb the minerals well. This is one reason every adult on a nutritional balancing program takes a digestive aid, regardless of age or health status. Children may need digestive help, but usually not as much as adults. Digestive aids often do not taste good, so they may not get one for this reason. However, they are helpful for most children as well.
TOXIC METALS IN SALT TODAY
A problem with most salt is its high content of toxic metals, especially aluminum. This is somewhat unavoidable, but is a reason not to use certain sea salts. As stated above, all sea salt contains some mercury and other toxic metals. However, the benefits seem to outweigh the problems, so far.
SODIUM AND SALT IN THE AMERICAN DIET
Sodium sources. Many natural foods contain sodium. Excellent sources are vegetables of all kinds such as carrots and beets. Red meat, poultry, eggs and fish are also excellent sources. Kelp is another excellent natural source.
Refined foods are often deficient in natural sodium, but are loaded with refined salt. Many refined foods are bland or even tasteless because of the poor quality of their ingredients. In an effort to spice them up, table salt is often added in great quantity.
Among the most salt-laced foods are French fries, chips, pastries, salted fish, processed meats, relishes and canned soups. Many other refined foods contain a surprising amount of refined table salt.
Since the same foods are magnesium-deficient, the combination is very unhealthful and not surprisingly can cause problems, especially if eaten repeatedly.
An exception are the organic corn chips, especially blue corn chips, that are labeled as containing sea salt. I hope more chip companies will move in this direction, as the sea salt is a much healthier product.
SODIUM AND SLOW OXIDATION.
Sodium levels in the blood usually remains in a narrow range, even when significant pathology is present. This is not true of sodium in the hair. Here sodium ranges from a low of 1 or 2 mg% to several hundred mg%.
Low sodium on hair tests. Most people's hair analyses reveal very low levels of sodium. We find this is not usually related to salt intake, but to the adequacy of the adrenal glands. Aldosterone secreted by the adrenals causes sodium retention in the tissues.
Slow oxidation and low blood pressure. The mineral pattern characterized by low tissue sodium and potassium is called slow oxidation. These individuals often crave salt and salty foods. Many have a low blood pressure, in part due to low sodium that contributes to a low blood volume.
Low blood pressure may also be due to underactivity of the adrenal glands. Adrenal hormones cause constriction of the arteries, which raises blood pressure.
Sea salt particularly good for slow oxidizers. Consuming some sea salt may help raise the sodium level slightly in slow oxidizers, as these individuals are excreting excessive sodium. Consuming sea salt is strongly recommended for these people unless they are salt-sensitive due to other pathology. However, to permanently and significantly raise their tissue sodium, they must improve their adrenal glandular activity.
Slow oxidizers who are eating a magnesium-rich diet may have some sea salt with each meal with no adverse effects. Some do well on more. This is not a lot compared to that found in a diet of salt-laden refined foods. However, it is certainly not an avoidance of salt.
SODIUM AND FAST OXIDATION
In some people, the hair tissue sodium level may be elevated. The most common metabolic pattern with this is a fast oxidation state. It is seen most commonly in young children. In fact, we all begin life with a high tissue sodium level.
In adults, it is more likely a secondary stress pattern associated with excessive levels of toxic metals affecting the adrenals, kidneys or pituitary gland. Excessive sympathetic nervous system activity may also affect the adrenal glands.
Toxic metals and sodium levels. The presence of toxic metals, especially cadmium, mercury, lead, arsenic, copper, manganese, iron or aluminum will raise the hair sodium level. This is due to a toxic effect on the kidneys, adrenals and other organs.
These metals irritate the kidneys and adrenals. Physiological forms of the minerals manganese and iron do not have this effect, only a toxic form that is probably and oxide, that is quite common today.
Most often, the hair sodium level will drop when the toxic metals and toxic forms of manganese and iron are eliminated from the body. At the same time, edema or swelling of the tissues often disappears and the blood pressure often decreases if it was elevated.
Salt sensitivity. If the tissue sodium level is elevated on a tissue mineral test, one may be somewhat salt sensitive. This is not a problem with sea salt, but a pathology caused usually by toxic metals or toxic chemicals in the kidneys, pituitary or adrenal glands.
Other very rare reasons for sea salt sensitivity include a hormone-secreting adrenal tumor or Cushing’s disease.
WHAT TO DO IF ONE IS SALT-SENSITIVE
1. Avoid table salt completely. Everyone should avoid table salt. Many salt sensitive people can tolerate some unrefined sea salt. Restaurants can be a problem, as salt is hidden in many dishes. One can ask in some restaurants for low sodium or sodium-free meals.
2. Eat only natural and unrefined grains and no white sugar or white flour. This way one will obtain significantly more magnesium from food, which may help reduce salt sensitivity.
3. Supplement with magnesium. Quality magnesium supplements include chelates, citrates, glycinates, aspartates and orotates. The latter two contain less magnesium per tablet, though they are well-absorbed.
Taking a magnesium supplement may well reduce salt sensitivity. Magnesium is very safe. Excessive amounts will cause diarrhea. Some physicians give magnesium to bowel tolerance, though I believe this is excessive in some cases.
4. Go on a nutritional balancing program to remove toxic metals and restore a balanced body chemistry. Salt sensitivity may indicate excessive levels of toxic metals or a fast oxidation rate. This can be assessed with a hair mineral analysis.
Most people have some toxic metals, regardless of whether they are revealed on tests or not. A nutritional balancing program and infrared sauna therapy are most helpful to remove toxic metals and chemicals that can affect the kidneys, adrenals and pituitary, and contribute to salt sensitivity.
ADDING SALT TO DRINKING WATER
This is a newer “detoxification procedure” that I do not endorse at all. It is quite dangerous, in fact, though it starts our harmlessly enough. Adding salt to drinking water will cause the removal of a few toxic metals by an osmotic mechanism. The problem is that it may also remove vital or essential minerals slowly and insidiously. It can also subtly dehydrate the body. Therefore, I do not recommend this procedure at all.
PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF SODIUM
Sodium is sometimes called the volatility mineral. People with a high sodium level often have a volatile or elevated blood pressure and their personality may also be volatile. Elevated tissue sodium is related to the alarm stage of stress, also called a fight-or-flight reaction.
Sodium is very yang in Chinese medical terminology. Yang is the quality of being warm, hard and contracted or centripetal.
People with a high level of sodium in relation to potassium are often leaders, starters, pioneers, outgoing, active and positive. When sodium is in excess, they may become volatile, angry or paranoid.
A product related to table salt is monosodium glutamate or MSG. This food additive is widely used as a flavor enhancer in thousands of prepared foods. It is also used widely in Chinese cooking, soups and other processed foods.
It causes headaches and other symptoms in many people. Glutamic acid is a pro-inflammatory amino acid. The sodium in MSG is not balanced by magnesium or other trace minerals, so it too has a pro-inflammatory effect.
If one is deficient in magnesium, the effect is even worse. I suggest avoiding all monosodium glutamate. For more information about this, read MSG on this website.