It’s almost taken as a given that too much sodium is bad for your health, and especially your blood pressure. First, a look on where this idea comes from.

Evil Sodium and High Blood Pressure

Any living system seeks to create balance, or homeostasis. One aspect of this is electrolyte balance.

Sodium is the most abundant electrolyte in the body, followed by chloride (not surprising, since in table salt they come together). Your body balances electrolyte concentrations found in different compartments by shifting around water content, because water can pass through membranes (while electrolytes can’t, not without assistance). 

Therefore, when sodium concentration on one side of a membrane is higher than on the other, water content follows in order to balance it out. If you’ve just recently eaten a lot of sodium, the concentration will be higher in your bloodstream, so the water will flow out of your cell membranes and into your bloodstream to balance it out. More water = higher blood volume = higher blood pressure. 

Good Sodium and Low Blood Pressure

But the flip side is true too. If you’ve been under a lot of stress for a long period of time, in addition to fatigue that will probably hit you around 1-3 pm, you might notice that when you stand up too quickly, the room goes dark for a few seconds (called orthostatic hypotension). This is because your adrenal glands produce several hormones. One of them is of course cortisol, responsible for most of the classic symptoms of adrenal fatigue

But another is called aldosterone. Aldosterone reabsorbs sodium and exchanges it for potassium at the level of the kidneys. Again, water follows sodium. So if your adrenals are too tired to make enough aldosterone, you’ll likely notice that your blood pressure will go down. This means your heart will have to work extra hard to get the lower blood volume all the way up to your head when you stand up too fast. People in this position will sometimes find that they crave salt… and for good reason. The body is trying to get that blood volume back up. (You should also drink plenty of water, by the way.)

Evil Sodium and Your Kidneys

Sodium-containing foods are very acidifying to the body. This doesn’t mean that they make your blood acidic — if that happened, you’d be dead. What it does mean is these foods overtax the buffering system your body employs to maintain the pH of your blood within a very narrow range. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch… an overtaxed buffering system means overworked kidneys, potentially kidney stones, and sometimes osteoporosis. It may even predispose you to cancer

Good Sodium and Hydration

Anybody who’s ever tried to drink seawater knows that salt makes you thirsty, for the same balancing reasons mentioned above. But you can fall off the “other side of the horse,” as it were, by drinking only distilled water. Electrolytes in the proper balance help the cells actually get and stay hydrated, rather than flushing right through you. 

Evil Sodium in Your Food

Processed and prepackaged foods are, for the most part, insanely high in sodium. (Side note here: MSG, or monosodium glutamate, binds to sodium receptors in your taste buds and “tricks” your brain into thinking the food is saltier than it really is. Even if you are not actually allergic or sensitive to MSG, training your taste buds to crave too much salt perpetuates this problem.) 

Yes, you need sodium to maintain adequate blood volume and hydration status, but there is most definitely too much of a good thing, and we’re there. This is why many people who have hypertension, kidney stones, and osteoporosis will notice that when they start watching their sodium intake, health indices will improve. 

Good Sodium in Your Food

But historically, the bulk of our diets didn’t consist of prepackaged foods, and our palates didn’t come to expect excessively salty flavors. In those days, natural salt, containing a complex variety of other minerals besides just sodium, was extremely valuable for its ability to both preserve and bring out the flavor in savory foods. Unlike the processed table salt we’re familiar with today, natural salt such as sea salt is a good source of sodium, in the proper balance with other electrolytes. 

For daily health tips, Like Dr Lauren on Facebook!