How bad is salt?

What are the dangers associated with taking too much salt or adding raw salt in food?

Dear Doctor,
What are the dangers associated with taking too much salt or adding raw salt in food?

Susan

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Dear Susan,

Excessive intake of anything, including salt, is bad for the body. Salt is good for enhancing taste, improving intake of food. But excess salt can cause high blood pressure. This happens due to water retention caused by excess salt in the body. It also puts a load on the heart, increasing susceptibility to develop heart diseases not directly due to high blood pressure. This may manifest as chest pain, breathlessness on exertion, palpitations or swelling over feet. The kidneys get loaded with extra fluid and salt, exceeding their capacity to filter it out. This gradually weakens them, causing kidney failure. One feels thirsty after eating salt, because it draws water from cells in the tissues.

Excess intake of salt can also cause dehydration, causing listlessness and fatigue. Major metabolic functions of the body, including functioning of muscles and nerves depends on correct balance of salt and potassium. Excess intake of salt can disturb this balance causing early fatigue, muscle aches and cramps and even cardiac arrest in severe cases.

Excess salt inhibits absorption and utilization of calcium in the body leading to early osteoporosis weakening of bones). One experiences joint pains and becomes prone to develop pathological fractures (fracture without trauma or just mild trauma) of limbs, due to osteoporosis. Excess salt can lead to increase in gastric acid production, causing heart burn, nausea, vomiting and even peptic ulcer.

Recommended salt intake for a normal adult is about 200mg/per day. For somebody suffering from high blood pressure or heart/kidney diseases, the recommended intake is 150mg/day. Many natural food substances contain salt inherently. Hence while adding table salt, this fact should also be considered.

Dr Rachna Pande  is a specialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital

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