Salt and Your Health
Salt (also known as sodium) is a necessary part of how our nerves operate. It should be noted that there is a difference between salt and sodium. Salt is the crystal we put in our saltshakers and add to our food. It is a compound made of sodium and chloride. Sodium is the essential nutrient our bodies need9.
Sodium facilitates communication between our nerves and the rest of our bodies, and it even helps digest our food. There is a reason why we see salt in most of the foods we eat: it is delicious! Most importantly, our body craves it because it needs the sodium to function properly1.
Our bodies do not need very much sodium to do its job properly, and certainly they do not need as much as most processed foods contain. In fact, too much sodium can cause inflammation and damage your nerves, along with other health issues. This post explores how sodium affects you and specifically your neuropathy. It also seeks to provide tools you can use to manage your salt consumption and your neuropathy.
Sodium and Your Nerves
Sodium plays a significant role in how your nerves work in your body. When your nerve cells receive a signal, they send an electrochemical impulse (also known as an action potential) to trigger communication with the neighboring cells around them8. During an action potential, sodium rushes out of your nerve cells to start the electrochemical impulse8. Too little sodium in your body prevents this electrochemical impulse hindering efficient nerve communication. Poor nerve communication results in symptoms like severe muscle cramps and can progress to more serious conditions.
While it is important to consume enough sodium, too much of it also causes problems with your nerves. One of these problems that is common is excess fluid retention. Sodium plays a key role in regulating your fluid balance, or how much water your body retains. Too much fluid stored in your tissues causes a condition called an edema. The Mayo Clinic says that edemas occur when “tiny blood vessels in your body (capillaries) leak fluid. The fluid builds up in surrounding tissues, leading to swelling”2. Swelling puts pressure on your nerves and adds to the pain caused by peripheral neuropathy.
Too much fluid (or water) retention can also lead to pinched nerves and nerve pain. The Minnesota Spine Institute says that a pinched nerve results when pressure, inflammation, swelling, or another type of damage occurs to a nerve in your body7. Excess fluid retention can lead to swelling, which then can lead to pinched nerves, compounding the pain of neuropathy.
With all that in mind, the key to making sure our nerves are given what they need to work properly is to balance how much salt we consume in our day-to-day life.
Sodium & The Rest of Your Body
Excess sodium also negatively impacts other parts of our bodies, like your heart and your kidneys. Our kidneys are responsible for regulating our body’s sodium levels by filtering out the excess into our urine3. A problem arises when we eat salt in excess frequently, as it can overload the kidneys and cause fluid imbalances. Too much salt also causes sodium to accumulate in the blood, which may lead to heart disease and high blood pressure3. This in turn worsens circulation and results in nerves not getting the nutrition needed to function properly.
Consuming salt in moderation is important for the care of our bodies and helps prevent other health issues from compounding on your neuropathy.
4 Steps to Balance Your Sodium Intake
The World Health Organization recommends an average intake of 5-6 grams of salt a day, which is about 4-6 grams less than the average amount of salt people consume daily5. These tips will help you manage your sodium intake and make sure you are only consuming as much as you need. Make sure you check with your doctor to make sure your sodium intake is what is best for you!
- Know What is in Your Food: Over 75 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods like cheese, meats, sauces, and soups1. Packaged foods, ready-to-eat meals, bakery products, and many restaurant meals are among the foods that are high in sodium. Be sure to read food labels and buy unsalted/low sodium food when you can.
- Cook at Home: When cooking at home you can more easily control how much sodium is in your food1. Try making foods that are usually pre-packaged (like salad dressings and soups) from scratch and use other seasonings like herbs & spices instead of salt.
- Try Salt Substitutes: You can try using salt substitutes made with potassium or magnesium instead of salt when making your home-cooked food4. An added bonus of magnesium: it helps reduce muscle cramps in some neuropathy sufferers.
- Stay Hydrated: Drinking water is beneficial for many reasons, but one is that it can help regulate the salt in your system. Water flushes excess sodium from your kidneys, which in turn ensures your fluid balance is where it is supposed to be6.
Keep in mind that each person has their own unique needs when it comes to what they eat. How much salt one person needs may not be appropriate for what you need based on your health and what your doctor recommends. Always ask your doctor before making any changes to your diet.
- Cut out the Salt – Unlock Food. (2019, January 29). UnlockedFood. https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Heart-Health/Cut-out-the-Salt.aspx
- Edema – Symptoms and causes. (2020, December 1). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/edema/symptoms-causes/syc-20366493
- Fantar, S. (2018, June 11). Salt Vs. Sodium. Healthy Eating | SF Gate. https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/salt-vs-sodium-8987.html
- Get the Scoop on Salt – Unlock Food. (2019, January 29). UnlockedFood. https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Heart-Health/Get-the-Scoop-on-Salt.aspx
- Ha, S. K. (2014). Dietary Salt Intake and Hypertension. Electrolytes & Blood Pressure, 12(1), 7. https://doi.org/10.5049/ebp.2014.12.1.7
- Milan, J. (2018, March 26). What to Do After Eating Too Much Salt. Cooking Light. https://www.cookinglight.com/eating-smart/nutrition-101/what-to-do-after-eating-too-much-salt-sodium#:%7E:text=Drinking%20lots%20of%20water%20helps,help%20you%20feel%20less%20bloated.
- Minnesota Spine Institute. (2017, June 21). Pinched Nerve Symptoms and Treatments. https://minnesotaspineinstitute.com/conditions/pinched-nerve/pinched-nerve-symptoms-and-treatments/
- Tremblay, S. (2018, December 2). What Role Does Sodium Play Biologically? Healthy Eating | SF Gate. https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/role-sodium-play-biologically-7971.html
- the American Food and Drug Administration (2020, April 02) Sodium in your Diet. Use the Nutrition Facts Label and Reduce your Intake https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/sodium-your-diet#:~:text=Sodium%20is%20an%20essential%20nutrient,muscles%20and%20nerves%20running%20smoothly.
Natalie was a Student Writer for the Calgary Neuropathy Association and has now completed her degree and is in the working world.