Sodium is a mineral vital for human health. Along with maintaining average fluid balance, the mineral also plays a crucial role in many other body functions, including nervous and muscular systems control, plus blood pressure regulation. We get most of our sodium from salt (i.e., “table salt”).
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The importance of Sodium in the Body
The kidneys regulate the sodium level in the body, and it excretes excess sodium through sweat and urine. Sodium is primarily found in cell fluids – it helps regulate the water entering and leaving cells. Sodium reabsorption is tightly coupled to passive water reabsorption, which means that when sodium moves, water follows. Therefore, excessive sodium intake increases water retention in the body, increasing the volume of fluids in circulation. The opposite holds — reduced salt consumption causes water loss.
An increase in the volume of bodily fluids in circulation increases blood pressure (i.e., pressure on the veins). Bottom line? How much salt you eat impacts your body’s fluid balance and blood pressure. Sodium is responsible for the following functions in the body:
- It regulates the fluid balance of the body
- It takes part in the transmission of nerve impulses
- It allows the muscles to contract and relax.
- It maintains blood pressure
Recommended sodium dietary recommendations
Every 1 gram of salt we consume contains 400 mg of sodium. The World Health Organization recommends limiting daily salt consumption to 5 grams (2000 mg sodium) to prevent hypertension, heart diseases, kidney diseases, obesity and promote bone health. The American Heart Association offers a more conservative recommendation: daily intake should be limited to 1,500 mg. The latter believes that this amount helps ensure optimal blood pressure and body fluid balance.
Studies have shown that excessive salt consumption causes heart diseases (e.g., hypertension, coronary artery disease, and heart failure) and chronic diseases – including water balance disorders (i.e., edema) and kidney failure. As salt intake increases, the amount of calcium excreted in the urine increases to maintain body fluid balance, and bone resorption may develop.
Daily sodium intake values are even lower in patients with chronic diseases such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, heart failure, and kidney failure. That said, it’s worth noting that certain situations may call for increased salt intake. For instance: where excessive sweating is involved. Also, be mindful that extreme salt restriction or loss could hurt health.
Sodium regulates the volume of extracellular fluid in the body – and, thus, provides osmotic pressure in fluid distribution. It’s also crucial for fluid-electrolyte and acid-base balance. As a result, the excessive consumption of dietary sodium, coupled with insufficient potassium, is associated with an increased risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Using dietary survey methods to estimate sodium intake is problematic as it typically offers low validity. Instead, a better approach would be through urine (urinary sodium levels provide a conservative estimate of salt consumption). Approximately 90% of salt intake is excreted in the urine. Note that there are also non-urinary sodium losses, like sweat.
Possible Urine Sodium Results
Low-level Urine Sodium
The primary cause of sodium deficiency is low salt consumption. Therefore, paying attention to your intake of vitamins and minerals is key to preventing sodium deficiency. More specifically, regular sodium consumption prevents sodium deficiency.
A urinalysis could help you determine the cause of a low blood sodium level; it’ll help reveal whether your kidneys are removing sodium from the body and could be used to monitor many types of kidney diseases.
A sodium level below 0-100 mg/dL reflects low urinary sodium, indicating low sodium intake.
If blood sodium levels are low, but urine levels are high, the body may be losing too much of this mineral. On the other hand, low sodium levels in blood and urine mean that the body is not getting enough salt, and sodium deficiency can cause various problems.
Sodium is a significant mineral source in people who follow a healthy, balanced diet. Individuals low on sodium may experience symptoms like thirst and sweating. Adequate water and salt consumption help treat sodium deficiency.
Causes and Symptoms
Sodium is an essential mineral found in almost everything we eat and drink. Sodium deficiency, which manifests as symptoms like weakness, headache, and mental confusion, could contribute to heart diseases in the long term.
People striving for optimal health should pay attention to how much sodium they consume daily, and that’s because excessive salt consumption has adverse effects on health. So here’s the bottom line: limiting your salt intake while still ensuring that you’re meeting your daily sodium needs will benefit your health in the long term.
- Eating too little sodium
- Kidney problems
- Chronic diarrhea and fluid loss
- Hormonal disorders
- Uncontrollable vomiting and diabetic ketoacidosis
- Thyroid disorder
The symptoms include:
- Restlessness and irritability
- Mental instability
Dangers of Chronic Urine Sodium Deficiency
Chronically too low sodium levels could result in neurological complications that affect a person’s gait or attention while walking – increasing the risk of falls and injuries. In addition, low sodium levels can lead to osteoporosis, increasing the risk of bone fracture. One study found that adults with mild sodium deficiency were almost three times more likely to have osteoporosis than normal sodium levels.
Optimal Level of Urine Sodium
Sodium plays a crucial role in many bodily functions, including nerve signal transmission, fluid balance regulation, and muscle contraction and relaxation management.
Typically, urinary sodium values range between 200- and 400 mg/dL per day. Your result depends on how much sodium or salt you’re getting and your hydration status.
High Level of Urine Sodium
Just like consuming too little sodium, too much can also be problematic. For instance, a high dietary sodium intake can result in symptoms like excessive thirst, dry mouth, and muscle weakness.
For reference, high urinary sodium level is defined as any value exceeding 500 mg/L.
Causes of high urine sodium:
- Too much sodium in the diet
- Excessive consumption of table salt
- Abnormal adrenal gland function
Excessive sodium intake increases the amount of calcium excreted in the urine, increasing the risk of health conditions like kidney stones and osteoporosis.
The symptoms include:
- Strong sense of thirst
- Dry mouth
- Involuntary muscle contraction
Healthy Diet Management
Sodium doesn’t just come from salt; and there are many other hidden sources of sodium that may surprise you. For example, instant soups, processed meat products, canned goods, pickles, and nuts are all foods that are high in sodium. So, limit your consumption of these sodium-rich foods to avoid health complications.
Three Primary Sources of Urine Sodium
Processed and Prepared Foods
People who eat mainly canned foods, soups, convenience foods, and frozen foods get a substantial amount of extra sodium. Food manufacturers use salt or other sodium-containing compounds as flavor or texture enhancers.
Condiments Containing Sodium
Pay attention to the amount of sodium you’re consuming through condiments. You can do so by reading the product’s ingredient label.
Natural Sources of Sodium
Sodium is a mineral naturally found in red meat, poultry, and dairy products.
The best way to find out the amount of sodium is to read the food labels. Apart from salt, other sodium-containing compounds typically used in cooking include:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Disodium phosphate
- Sodium alginate
How do we reduce sodium?
First, focus on eating more fresh and minimally-processed foods (e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables) containing minimal amounts of sodium. Steer clear of delicatessen and other processed meat products. Instead, opt for fresh meat with less sodium than your typical processed meats. Also, opt for low-sodium options when purchasing ready-to-eat meals. Buy low-salt or unsalted bread. Finally, be mindful of the sodium you’re adding to your meals when cooking. Reduce the amount of salt you use. You could choose low-sodium sauces (e.g., salad dressings, ketchup, and other condiments). An easy way to cut down on the sodium you use during cooking would be to use herbs and spices as flavoring agents instead of salt-based, ready-made sauces.
The craving for salty food is an acquired habit. Essentially, you could unlearn this “craving” by gradually reducing your salt consumption. Your taste buds will adapt after a few weeks – and you’ll experience fewer cravings for salty food. Over time, you will discover that food can be tasty even without added salt.