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Dehydration Science

Is Salt REALLY Bad for You?

For decades, a common bit of dietary advice has held steady: Eat less salt. Our supermarkets are flooded with “low-sodium” and “sodium-free” foods, and we’re told that excessive sodium will raise our blood pressure.

To a certain extent, that is true. Americans consume an average of 3,400 mg of sodium every day, which is more than a thousand milligrams above recommended daily levels, according to the CDC.[i] Excessive sodium can worsen many diseases like diabetes and chronic kidney conditions, as well.

Yet, the push for lower sodium foods has led many to believe that salt is bad for us. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

It is one of the most crucial electrolytes for the body. Our bodies use it to regulate water, and it controls muscle and nerve function. Unfortunately, sodium can be lost rapidly in sweat and due to diarrhea or vomiting.

How Fast Do We Lose Sodium?

Endurance athletes lose sodium quickly through sweat. For example, a liter of sweat contains an average of 800 milligrams of sodium[ii]. Depending on environmental factors and athletic conditioning, athletes and occupational athletes like firefighters can lose a liter of sweat in an hour or less.[iii]

During intense exercise or work lasting more than an hour, the body loses sodium so quickly that it becomes difficult to replace with foods and beverages, which is the way we normally take in electrolytes.

When we’re sick, we’re also losing sodium very quickly. During severe and prolonged episodes, it can be difficult for us to maintain sodium in the body.

When is Sodium Supplementation Necessary?

Intensive, prolonged exercise or work causes the body to lose a large percentage of sodium through sweat. According to the Institute of Medicine, athletes can keep pace by drinking a hydration beverage containing sodium.

The Institute’s stated guidelines[iv] for sodium content in hydration drinks is 460 and 690 mg of sodium per liter. And that’s why sports drinks don’t maximize hydration; they include less than 300 mg sodium on average per serving.

Athletes can also develop low blood sodium, by drinking too much water. Overhydrating dilutes the amount of sodium in our bloodstream. For instance, one study found that of 669 ultramarathoners, 15 percent were experiencing low blood sodium.[v] In these cases, added sodium can benefit athletes.

Additionally, when we’re sick, drinking a hydration drink like DripDrop can help offset the loss of sodium through diarrhea and vomiting.

Sodium + Sugar = Maximum Hydration

Although salt is beneficial for hydration, it works much better when combined with a precise ratio of sugar. When they two are present in the small intestine, the body absorbs water 2-3 times faster. This happens because sugar attaches to the small intestine and absorbs salt, which in turn, draws water into the bloodstream. Thus, it takes a proper ratio of salts and sugars.

[i] Centers for Disease Control. Salt Fact Sheet
[ii] American College of Sports Medicine. (2007). Exercise and fluid replacement. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc,39(2), 377-390.
[iii] Montain, S. J., Cheuvront, S. N., & Lukaski, H. C. (2007). Sweat mineral-element responses during 7 h of exercise-heat stress. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 17(6), 574. [iv] Nesheim, R. O., & Marriott, B. M. (1994). Fluid replacement and heat stress. National Academies.
[v] Hoffman M, Hew-Butler T, Stuempfle K. Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia and Hydration Status in 161-km Ultramarathoners. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2013;45(4):784-791.

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