24-Hour Crisis Hotline: (877)SAFEGBC or (877)723-3422 Mental Health & Substance Abuse Issues

6502 Nursery Drive, Suite 100
Victoria, TX 77904
(361)575-0611
Fax: (361)578-5500
Regular Hours: M-Fri 8am - 5pm
Every 3rd Thurs of the Month - Extended Hours Until 7 pm

Nutrition
Resources
Basic InformationLatest News
Want to Avoid Dementia? Add Some Color to Your PlateMcCormick Recalls Seasonings Over Salmonella RiskSimple Step Gets More School Kids Eating Their VeggiesEating Meat Raises Risk of Heart Disease: StudyCoffee Won't Upset Your Heartbeat. It Might Even Calm ItFermented Foods Could Boost Your MicrobiomeMany College Students Are Trying Out the New 'Fake Meats'Whole Grains Every Day: Key to Your Health and WaistlineAverage Soda Fountain Serving Exceeds Daily Recommended Added SugarsAHA News: How to Eat Right and Save Money at the Same TimePlant-Based Diet Best for Your HeartListeria Outbreak Linked to Precooked Chicken: CDCCan You Eat Your Way to Fewer Migraines?AHA News: Watermelon Is a Summertime Staple. But What's Hidden Behind the Sweetness?Most Americans Don't Follow Diets That Could Prevent CancerDelicious & Deadly: Southern U.S. Diet Tied to Higher Odds for Sudden DeathPotato Chips, Fatty Lunches Greatly Raise Your Heart RisksCoffee Could Perk Up Your LiverHow Healthy Are the New Plant-Based 'Fake Meats'?Fast-Food Companies Spending More on Ads Aimed at Youth'Plant-Based' or Low-Fat Diet: Which Is Better for Your Heart?Why Getting Your Groceries Online Might Be HealthierFewer Than 1 in 10 American Adults Get Enough Dietary FiberTwo Common Eating Habits That Can Really Pile on PoundsA Woman's Diet Might Help Her Avoid Breast CancerToo Much Caffeine Might Raise Your Odds for GlaucomaA Fruitful Approach to Preventing DiabetesAHA News: Is Mango the Luscious Superhero of Fruit?Sleep Deprived? Coffee Can Only Help So MuchAHA News: How Much Harm Can a Little Excess Salt Do? PlentyLow-Salt 'DASH' Diet Good for Total Heart HealthGluten Doesn't Trigger 'Brain Fog' for Women Without Celiac Disease: StudyHumans Started Loving Carbs a Very Long Time AgoVegetarian Diet Could Help Fight Off Disease: Study'BPA-Free' Bottles Might Need a Run Through Your Dishwasher FirstEat Smart: Mediterranean Diet Could Ward Off DementiaMany Consumers Misunderstand Those 'Best Before' Food LabelsAHA News: Salt Sensitivity May Increase Risk of High Blood PressureAHA News: Food, Culture and the Secret Ingredient to Address Lack of Diversity in Nutrition FieldWhat's for Lunch? Often, It's What Your Co-Workers Are HavingChocolate, Butter, Sodas: Avoid These Foods for a Healthier Middle AgeToo Much Red Meat Might Harm Your HeartAre You Eating Foods That Harm Your 'Microbiome'?AHA News: Sorting Folklore From Fact on the Health Benefits of GarlicEnergy Drink Habit Led to Heart Failure in a Young ManBingeing, Stress Snacking: How the Pandemic Is Changing Eating HabitsAmericans Are Eating Less Healthily Everywhere, Except at SchoolSluggish Coworker? Maybe They 'Pigged Out' Last NightDo You 'Wolf Down' Your Food? Speedy Eaters May Pack on More PoundsThe 5 Foods That Cut Your Odds for Colon Cancer
Questions and AnswersLinks
Related Topics

Wellness and Personal Development

AHA News: How Much Harm Can a Little Excess Salt Do? Plenty

HealthDay News
by American Heart Association News
Updated: May 26th 2021

new article illustration

WEDNESDAY, May 26, 2021 (American Heart Association News) -- Many people know too much salt in their diet is a bad thing. Not nearly as many know exactly why.

"They're surprised at the degree to which it can affect them," said Dr. Cheryl Laffer, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. "And at the amount of salt that there is in the American diet."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90% of Americans age 2 and older eat too much sodium. Most of it is in the form of salt, also known as sodium chloride.

Here are six things salt does to the body – and what you can do to protect yourself.

Let's start with the heart.

With the circulatory system, salt's effects are "a very simple plumbing problem," said Dr. Fernando Elijovich, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University.

The heart is the pump and blood vessels are the pipes, he said. Blood pressure goes up if you increase how much blood has to move through the pipes. Blood pressure also rises if you shrink those pipes.

Salt does both. When there's excess salt in your system, the heart pumps more blood in a given time, boosting blood pressure. And over time, salt narrows the vessels themselves, which is the most common "plumbing" feature of high blood pressure.

The harm can come quickly. And over time.

Within 30 minutes of eating excess salt, your blood vessels' ability to dilate is impaired, Elijovich said. The damage from persistent high blood pressure shows up down the road, in the form of heart attacks, strokes and other problems.

The good news, Laffer said, is the benefits of cutting back on excess salt also show up quickly. If you significantly reduce how much salt you eat, your blood pressure goes down within hours or days.

And keeping it low can make a significant long-term difference. "In the U.K., they actually had a nationwide effort to reduce salt in commercial foods," she said. "Within a couple of years, they had reduced the numbers of heart attacks and other bad outcomes. And that was pretty striking."

It's a whole-body issue.

Beyond the heart, excess salt can strain the kidneys. Part of their function is to excrete salt, Laffer said. "But the kidneys, in hypertension, may not excrete salt appropriately. They may hold onto it." That can lead to problems ranging from swollen ankles to fluid buildup around the heart and lungs.

Salt also can threaten the brain by damaging blood vessels and raising blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for stroke. It also might change the behavior of the brain stem, which helps regulate salt balance and blood pressure.

Scientists are just grasping some of the ways salt works.

Recent studies show salt affects the immune system, leading to inflammation that could be behind heart disease and other problems, Elijovich said.

His Vanderbilt colleagues also are examining how salt might affect bacteria in the gut. The investigation is new, Laffer said, but evidence points to gut bacteria having a role in salt-induced inflammation and high blood pressure.

It affects everyone differently.

Blanket statements about salt and health can be tricky. The root mechanisms of how salt affects the body aren't fully understood.

Some people who don't have high blood pressure can eat salt without seeing their blood pressure increase. Others may have "salt sensitivity," where even moderate salt intake triggers a higher blood pressure.

But the simple fact is that for most people, cutting salt is a healthy thing, Elijovich said. "If you could reduce the amount of salt that people eat, you will benefit the general population."

Think beyond the shaker.

Salt and sodium are not exactly the same, but most of the sodium in processed and restaurant foods is salt, and the terms are used interchangeably.

A fast-food hamburger might have more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium; a large order of fries could add 400 mg. A can of chicken noodle soup might have more than 2,200 mg.

Federal dietary guidelines recommend adults eat no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. The American Heart Association says the ideal daily limit is 1,500 mg. Yet Americans eat an average 3,400 mg of sodium a day.

So read labels, Laffer said. And be aware that just because a product is labeled "low sodium" doesn't mean it is.

Elijovich tells his patients to try cooking with flavorful spices, which can make them miss the taste of salt less. But he emphasized that home cooking and a sprinkling of salt at dinner are not the main culprits.
"The majority of our salt intake is not in what we do," he said. "It's in what we buy."

Whatever you do, it could make a difference. Earlier this year, an analysis of 85 studies published in the journal Circulation showed any reduction in sodium decreases blood pressure.

Anyone with high blood pressure needs to pay extra attention to salt. But everyone should know what it does, Laffer said. "That's my message to everyone that comes to my clinic. Even if it's a young fit person who's not overweight, I tell them – even for you, it's worth being careful with salt."

American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Not all views expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.

By Michael Merschel