Isn’t it ironic? While food companies add sodium to their canned and boxed goods to preserve them and keep them from spoiling, all that excess sodium in your body can have the opposite effect; more and more research implicates a high-sodium diet in a number of chronic health conditions.
The connection between sodium and heart health is fairly well known, but there are other important ways sodium in excess can take a toll on your health. A little salt is A-OK, and even beneficial, but because of our love affair with processed and packaged food, most Americans are getting too much sodium. Although experts recommend limiting your sodium consumption to 2,300 milligrams a day, the average American gets about 3,400, according to the American Heart Association.
Besides potential damage to your blood pressure and heart health, here are other ways your salt habit can impact your health.
High sodium increases your risk of stomach cancer. Salt may affect the growth of Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria responsible for causing inflammation that may progress to stomach cancer. Researchers have found a correlation between deaths from stomach cancer and salt intake: More deaths from this cancer occur in countries like China, Japan, and Korea, where salt-preserved meat and fish are a diet staple.
High sodium puts you at risk of osteoporosis. You already know that getting too-little calcium can influence your risk of osteoporosis. It turns out that too much salt may cause the body to lose more calcium through urination. Whenever the body doesn’t have enough calcium, it steals some from the bones, leading to reduced bone mass (and osteoporosis) over time. Here are other factors that affect your risk of osteoporosis.
High sodium may lead to kidney disease and stones. Your kidneys are responsible for filtering out unwanted waste from the blood, which is sent to the bladder as urine. To do its job properly, the kidneys need a balance of sodium and potassium, and too much salt (and/or not enough potassium) may make the kidneys less effective and put strain on them. (Learn the best food sources of potassium here.) Some doctors even recommend the low-sodium DASH diet, famously used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, to treat or prevent kidney disease and kidney stones.
High sodium may affect your cognitive function (i.e. your brainpower). Eating too much salt may increase your risk of stroke, which in turn may double your risk of developing vascular dementia. But you don’t need to have a stroke for salt to affect your brain: A 2012 study followed people aged 67 to 84 years and found that those with the lowest sodium intake exhibited better cognitive performance (like memory and concentration) than those in the higher sodium intake groups, regardless of weight, age, education, and diabetes.