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Nutrition Column

Sodium’s Impact on your Health

Most everyone is familiar with sodium in the form of table salt. A teaspoon of table salt contains 2325 mg of sodium! It is no surprise that the average American consumes between 3,000 and 4,000 mg of sodium per day. However, just because you don’t use table salt doesn’t mean you don’t need to monitor your sodium intake. A majority of dietary sodium comes from eating prepared or processed foods that the manufacturers add to “heighten” the taste. Consumers should be aware of the negative effects of a high sodium diet, specifically its effect on blood pressure, kidney stones, and osteoporosis.

A recent study showed that participants on a typical American diet who decreased their sodium intake from 3500 mg to 1150 mg/day decreased their blood pressure by 6.7 mm/Hg. These results have startling implications because high blood pressure is a risk factor for both stroke and heart attack, two of the leading causes of death in the United States. High blood pressure is a risk for stroke because it can cause blood vessels to rupture. It will increase the risk for a heart attack because it increases the likelihood that cholesterol and fat deposits will break off the walls of the arteries and become clogged in smaller vessels leading to the heart. A recent News Release on the American Heart Association web site presents more about maintaining and monitoring healthy blood pressure levels.

Traditionally, the dietary recommendation for a patient with kidney stones has been a low-calcium diet, but a recurrence rate of 50% at 10 years may have influenced researchers to discover a more effective recommendation. Sodium and calcium are similar enough in chemical structure that sometimes the body cannot always differentiate between the two. When excess sodium is being processed by the kidney it is likely that calcium will be lost into the urine along with the excess sodium. If urinary calcium concentration becomes too high, it will become supersaturated and precipitate in the form of a calcium crystal – commonly referred to as a kidney stone.The results of these studies suggest that a restriction of sodium can be an effective method for preventing the formation and recurrence of kidney stone.

The effect of sodium increase on calcium excretion directly affects the onset of osteoporosis as well. Your body regulates the amount of calcium in the blood. If calcium is being excreted via urine, your body will take calcium stores from the bone, which will lead to osteoporosis. If sodium levels are kept low (between 1000-1150 mg/day) and calcium levels are kept high, the risk of developing osteoporosis will significantly decrease.

To decrease sodium intake, you must become aware of the processed and packaged foods you are eating. Foods and canned vegetables are almost always offered with no added salt. You just need to be aware of your options. Learn to read the Nutrition Facts labels on your foods since sodium must be listed. Also, be wary of reduced sodium products as they may contain a significant amount when considering the amount you actually eat relative to the “suggested serving size.” At best, aim for under 2000 milligrams of total sodium per day.

Written by Ryan Serrano with Eric Sternlicht, Ph.D. Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA.