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why do we need sodium in our diets

Most of us eat about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day. Downsizing our sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams daily would have
major health benefits, slashing 16 million of the nationБs 68 million cases of hypertension and saving $26 billion health care dollars, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) agreed, advising anyone over age 50, of African-American descent or with high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or diabetes to limit their sodium to 1,500 milligrams. ThatБs nearly half of all Americans. The rest of us were advised to keep our numbers below 2,300 milligrams, the amount in roughly a teaspoon of salt. Then in May of 2013, in an apparent about-face, the IOM released a report concluding that too little sodium may be equally problematic for some people, particularly those with congestive heart failure. Even more startling, it announced there was no solid evidence that people with diabetes, kidney disease or cardiovascular disease would benefit from the previous 1,500-milligram cap and instead stated that 2,300 milligrams would be more appropriate.

However, if you read the reportБs fine print youБll find that the IOM admits that the data used to make the updated 2013 recommendations contains gaps in its methodology. WhatБs more, shortly after its announcement, one of the main studies that the IOM report relied on was retracted by the journal Heart, leaving us more confused than ever. Despite the health risks of too much salt, the body cannot function without sodium. Sodium serves numerous life functions from the cellular level to nervous system control. Sodium is a mineral that occurs naturally in the environment. Both humans and animals require it. However, proper balance is essential in order to realize its benefits and avoid the health risks associated with over-consumption. Sodium is vital for proper body function even at the most basic level. Sodium along with chloride and potassium are responsible for maintaining the electrochemical gradient between the environment within the cells and the fluid around it called the membrane potential.

Nervous system impulses and muscle contractions are controlled by the electrochemical activity that sodium makes possible, meaning that nervous impulses are controlled by electrical charges within these chemicals. A deficiency in sodium can lead to a serious health condition called hyponatremia. Symptoms include headache and nausea. Left untreated, hyponatremia can cause seizures and coma. Sodium plays an essential role in maintaining blood volume. The concentration of dissolved particles in plasma controls blood volume. The body maintains specific concentrations in the blood and the surrounding tissues. When you eat salty foods, your body retains water to dilute the concentration of sodium in your bloodstream. Sodium is one of several chemicals responsible for the maintenance of this system. The chemistry of the body involves many complicated reactions. The relationship between sodium and calcium is no exception.

If your diet is high in sodium, you risk calcium loss from your bones due to the chemistry between sodium and calcium. Like sodium, calcium is essential for life. The body will break down bone to free up calcium. Over time, this action might increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. Too much sodium also puts you at risk of other diseases, such as gastric cancer and heart disease. While sodium is crucial, excessive intake can lead to serious health consequences. A diet high in sodium will increase blood volume to the point where it can affect blood pressure. Simply, the more fluids your body retains, the higher the blood volume. With more blood, the heart must work harder to pump blood, increasing the pressure within blood vessels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that Americans consume more than twice the recommended 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Processed foods and restaurant food account for over three-quarters of salt intake in the average American diet.

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