What Are The Effects of Too Much Salt On Your Body?
Let’s take a minute to explain the negative effects of having too much salt circulating in your body. By better understanding the effects of salt on your body, you may be better able to manage and restrict your salt intake when appropriate.
Typically, consuming too much salt is something that occurs over time and the disease processes it contributes to are chronic diseases. However, I will briefly mention that there are some acute processes too. Too much salt in an acute setting can lead to something called hypernatremia, or “too much salt your blood”. This occurs because of dysregulation of sodium, water or both. This is a different disease entirely and I’m going to focus strictly on the chronic effects of sodium and hypertension.
Let’s pretend for a moment that we’re talking about patient X, who has chronic hypertension. This is, in part at least, because he consumes far too much salt every day. The American Heart Association recommends 1500 mg/day, but he consumes 4500 mg/day; three times what he needs. The following is a list of diseases he is at risk for secondary to his high salt levels and subsequent high blood pressure.
1. Kidney Damage
Over time, the excess fluid in circulation and elevated blood pressure can actually damage the kidneys. One of the roles of the kidneys is to filter your blood, removing waste and toxic products and sending them to your bladder in the form of urine. When your kidneys are damaged, these natural filters stop working as effectively. As these filters stop working, toxic substances begin to build up in your bloodstream and can cause all kinds of secondary issues. This is why people with end stage kidney disease require dialysis, because their filters are no longer functioning and we use a machine to do it for them.
2. Arterial Damage
Chronically elevated blood pressure puts stress on the walls of your arteries. Because these arteries need to maintain pressure, they begin to thicken and stiffen to compensate for this increased pressure. This process is known as arteriosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries”. At the same time, these thickened arteries can begin to narrow leading to arteriostenosis or “narrowing of the arteries”. This combination of hardening and narrowing is a setup for disaster. Over time, these damaged arteries can dilate and burst, can form blood clots that they send elsewhere or get so narrow that blood can no longer flow through them. And since the arteries job is to deliver oxygenated blood to the organs they flow into, this can also lead to organ damage downstream as those organs become deprived of oxygen.
3. Heart Damage
Several things happen to the heart muscle and arteries with chronically elevated blood pressure. Under the stress of pumping against the increased blood pressure, the heart muscle hypertrophies much like skeletal muscle in an athlete. The arteries of the heart, known as the coronary arteries, also can narrow and stiffen like arteries anywhere else. Unfortunately, the increase in heart muscle means that it requires more oxygen to function, and when combined with these narrowed and hardened arteries, you have a classic setup for a heart attack.
4. Brain Damage
The arterial damage I mentioned can lead to reduced blood flow to the brain. The narrowing and hardening of the arteries can occur in the arteries of the neck, known as the carotid arteries. As this process evolves, if the blood pressure remains elevated, parts of that narrowed carotid artery can break off under pressure and end up somewhere in the brain circulation. Once there, the oxygen deprived brain tissue can die, leading to a full blown stroke. Another way this can manifest is a series of mini strokes over time that can cause a type of dementia known as vascular dementia.
5. Other Diseases
Chronically elevated sodium has been linked to osteoporosis, stomach cancer, kidney stones and headaches.
Other signs and symptoms
In addition to putting you at risk for all those diseases, heavy salt intake can manifest with other signs and symptoms. These are all essentially signs of water retention: puffiness, bloating, weight gain, and excessive thirst.