Salt and Pepper

Nothing Simple About What Salt Does to Your Body

What could be simpler than salt? Plenty, it seems. New research in the Journal of Clinical Investigations suggests that some basic concepts about dietary salt are way off the mark. You think it makes you thirsty so you’ll drink more water? As it turns out, that’s not how it works. Instead, salty food and drink triggers a much more complex web of hormones to regulate fluids and electrolytes. And, by the way, it makes you hungry.

New Insights from Cosmonauts

These new findings come from tightly controlled studies of Russian cosmonauts simulating a long space mission. The researchers found that feeding food with lots of sodium influenced far more than just thirst and urine volumes.

Instead of simply causing thirst, high sodium intake triggers a web of hormones – including cortisol – that regulate more than just fluids. Energy metabolism, protein balance, and ketogenesis all come into play.

A Link to Diabetes and Other Disease Risks

This research offers more questions than answers. But the link to energy balance is fascinating. The cosmonauts consuming high sodium diets complained about being alway hungry. Cortisol release might be part of that. Shifts in energy balance are at work in this situation, as well.  The authors conclude:

Salt-driven changes in energy metabolism may link high salt intake with diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, and increased cardiovascular and neurovascular disease risk, even in the absence of any salt-sensitive blood pressure responses.

This will be the spark for many exciting new insights. Get ready to part with some comfortable assumptions about salt. And watch this space.

Click here and here for the studies, and here for a companion commentary. Read more from the New York Times here.

Salt and Pepper, photograph © Joe King / flickr

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May 10, 2017

2 Responses to “Nothing Simple About What Salt Does to Your Body”

  1. May 10, 2017 at 7:01 am, Al Lewis said:

    In Quizzify, we stay away from pronouncements about salt (except for people who already have hypertension and believe salt exacerbates it) because the data is so all-over-the-map.

    And that was before this study came out!

  2. May 11, 2017 at 10:18 am, Allen Browne said:

    “salt” – the latest “cause” of obesity. However, it may be another important factor. Very interesting – thanks.