Does Salt Dehydrate You? The link Between Sodium and Hydration
You've finally done it--you've finished that extra large pretzel, chunks of salt and all, and now you're ready for a nice, tall glass of plain water. That large salt intake must've really dehydrated your body, right? Maybe not. Before blaming your salty snack, consider the role it plays in the body's hydration process. Keep reading to discover the precise link between sodium and our hydration levels.
What is sodium?
That role is all thanks to one of salt's two ingredients: sodium. In addition to being an alkali metal with the atomic number 11, sodium is an electrolyte--a metal capable of conducting electricity that's an integral component of numerous bodily functions. When sodium or any other electrolyte is dissolved in bodily fluids, it can conduct an electric charge that assists muscles, nerves and the brain with communication. Specifically, sodium helps to regulate the amount of water that's inside and surrounding cells in the body.
How salt impacts hydration
In addition to the amount of fluid in and around cells, the amount of sodium in the body also helps decide how much fluid is present in blood. The body monitors how much fluid is in the blood versus the amount of sodium present and will utilize the kidneys to balance the scales, either by releasing more sodium or helping the blood retain its fluids.
An amount of sodium too high causes hypernatremia, which usually leads to thirst and, if left untreated, confusion, muscle twitching and seizures.
While hypernatremia can be caused by a person’s diet, it can also come about after vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweat or increased urination. People with high blood sugar or diabetes may urinate more, leading to an imbalance.
Conversely, an amount of sodium too low causes hyponatremia, characterized by a sluggish and confused feeling that may also lead to muscle twitching and seizures, in addition to the possibility of becoming less responsive as time goes by.
Overhydration can lead to hyponatremia, but it can also be caused by kidney disease, heart failure, and the ingestion of Thiazide diuretics, or water pills.
Such severe symptoms highlight the important role sodium has as a messenger for the brain and regulator for body fluids.
If sodium draws too much fluid to the blood, it’ll cause a rise in blood volume and force the heart to work harder pumping that blood around the body. The increased weight of that blood puts a strain on vital organs, causing the condition known as hypertension, or high blood pressure.
How much salt is too much (or too little)?
According to the United States Federal Department of Agriculture, the daily amount of recommended sodium is less than 23,000 mg per day. The organization recommends utilizing the daily value percentage found on a product’s nutritional facts as a measure for sodium in your diet–anything under 5% daily value should be considered too little, while anything above 20% daily value should be considered too much.
How to ensure you’re getting the right amount of salt
Getting the right amount of salt can be tricky since so many foods contain a large amount of the stuff, even if they don’t taste like they do. The FDA points out some obvious offenders like pizza, tacos, salty snacks and deli meats, but preserved foods can include a large amount of sodium. Pastries and cereal are also surprisingly stealthy offenders.
When eating, try to stick to fresh ingredients, avoid seasonings that list sodium on their labels and prepare the food yourself. When you decide to order food, request no salt. If you’re following a diet, you’re probably avoiding most of these foods anyway.
On the other end of the spectrum, not enough salt can have similarly debilitating effects, so don’t cut it out completely. Healthy options for sodium intake can include supplements, but stay away from salt tablets. This sudden, large salt intake can create an imbalance.
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When added to water, a DripDrop ORS packet provides three times more electrolytes than a sports drink with half the sugar. This can be especially helpful for athletes or active professionals who may not have the time or resources available to address their body’s need for electrolytes, but it’s also important for people who experience extreme climates, endure elongated travel sessions, or partake in a regular exercise routine.