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Articles by Natural Health Author Barbara Minton
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Avoiding Salt Increases Risk of Fatal Heart Attack and Stroke
by Barbara Minton
(The Best Years in Life) Have you been told to avoid salt from doctors, friends, neighbors and maybe even the mechanic that's fixing your car? Almost every "health" magazine has an article on the dangers of salt. In fact, the federal government recently urged most Americans to again sharply cut their already reduced salt intakes. Salt has been said to lead to high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. But like most truisms, this one should be taken with a grain of salt. Two separate studies published in 2011 found that diets low in salt may actually increase the risk of fatal heart attack and stroke. And the lower the salt intake, the greater the risk.
Both studies were published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), but received virtually no coverage in mainstream media. In the first, 3681 participants without cardiovascular disease were followed from 1985 until 2008. Researchers found that those with the lowest sodium levels, equivalent to consuming 2500 mg per day or an average of slightly more than one teaspoon of salt each day, had no greater protection against high blood pressure, heart disease, or death from cardiovascular causes than those who consumed the highest levels of 6000 mg of salt per day on average.
Deaths from heart disease and hospitalizations for coronary heart failure actually decreased with higher sodium intake. A total of 50 deaths occurred in the third of participants having the lowest sodium intakes, and 24 deaths occurred in the third who had medium sodium intakes. Only 10 deaths occurred in the third with the highest intakes. The findings showed the lowest risk for death was in those consuming between 4000 and 6000 mgs of salt per day.
The second study confirmed the findings of the first, adding that baseline sodium excretion did not predict the incidence of hypertension, and associations between systolic blood pressure and sodium excretion did not translate into reduced morbidity or improved survival.
These studies vindicated the work of Dr. Michael Alderman, from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, who has been trying to tell us for years that salt is not the culprit for hypertension and heart disease. A study he headed in 1998 came to the same conclusion as the JAMA studies, finding that people following low salt diets had a dramatically higher mortality risk. He has long noted that eating less salt increases insulin resistance that in turn can increase cardiovascular risk and the risk of other degenerative disease.
These findings come on the heels of other supposedly "bad things" that have been found to be good, such as sunshine, butter, red wine, dietary fat, and chocolate. They suggest it's time to enjoy salt again. Your life may depend on it.
Why having optimal salt is critical
Salt is composed of sodium and chloride ions that are essential for life. Salt works with potassium to regulate the fluid balance of the body, and is used for electrical signaling in the nervous system. For these reasons, as well as for the taste of salt, it has been an extremely valuable commodity during human history.
Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes, an indication that optimal salt intake is critical to human life and function. Salt is found in all the body fluids, including blood, spinal fluid, lymphatic fluid, and synovial fluid, the fluid found in the cavities of joints. Salt works in the lining of blood vessels to keep blood pressure normalized. The intravenous fluid given to hospital patients to prevent dehydration or stabilize shock contains salt. The human embryo is bathed in and develops in salty amniotic fluid.
Signs of hyponatremia (low salt) include loss of energy, lethargy, fatigue, nausea, headache, confusion, appetite loss, muscle weakness, and muscle spasms and cramps. If hyponatremia is extreme, loss of consciousness, coma and death will follow.
Salt for human consumption is produced in two different forms:
Sea salt is coarse and varies in color from whitish to light pink or light gray, depending on its mineral content. Refined salt is highly milled and white in color. Most of the refining process is geared toward making the salt look pretty so it will sell, and making sure it has a long shelf life.
Sea salt is usually obtained by evaporation of sea water. Rock salt deposits are another source of naturally occurring salt. Salt in these forms is about 84% sodium chloride and 16% other minerals. Both of these forms of salt are organic.
Table salt is salt from either of these sources refined to become almost completely pure sodium chloride. As such it is no longer organic because the other naturally occurring minerals and trace minerals besides sodium and chloride have been stripped away in a heat process that alters the molecular structure of what remains.
Then an anti-caking agent is added, such as sodium silicoaluminate, a form of aluminum, or sodium ferrocyanide, which contains cyanide ligands. Other anti-caking agents that may be used include tricalcium phosphate, magnesium oxide, silicon dioxide, aluminosilicate and calcium aluminosilicate. The latter two are also forms of aluminum, a mineral with high toxicity in the human body.
Anti-caking agents keep refined salt from mixing with moisture inside the shaker and also inside your body. This means that the refined salt you eat cannot perform one of the most basic functions of salt in your body, which is to balance hydration. This may be why many people are thirsty after eating foods prepared with refined salt.
Other bodily functions are disrupted by refined salt too. Since all the balancing minerals have been removed, water molecules must surround the sodium chloride molecules to break them up into sodium and chloride ions in order to help the body neutralize them. To accomplish this, water is taken from cells, leaving cells open to dehydration and premature death.
Sea salt is the major source of unrefined salt, freshly dried from the sea as in Celtic Sea Salt, or mined from inland ocean beds as in Himalayan Salt among others. This salt is a naturally occurring complex of sodium chloride and the minerals and trace minerals with which it naturally occurs. It is this natural form of salt that is compatible with and supportive of the body. However, be aware that salt is big business, and many products labeled as sea salt have been highly refined. They are finely milled, white salt that flows freely and is indistinguishable from refined salt.
Be sure the salt you buy is labeled as unrefined. Real health food stores or health oriented grocers like Whole Foods are the best places to find high quality sea salt. Look for salt that is fairly coarse and pale pink or light gray in coloration. Sea salt is also available from online health retailers. Along with a delicious salty taste, here are some of the life enhancing minerals you will receive: calcium, magnesium, sulfur, silicone, iodine, phosphorus and vanadium.
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