Addicted to Salt?

SALT…..To our doctors, it’s a four letter word.

They tell us to cut back on our consumption of salt.

They tell us that if we don’t cut back on our salt, we’re at risk of developing:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack

But, they don’t tell us how difficult it’s going to be kicking our salt habits.

i love salt1 Addicted to Salt?

And they sure as heck didn’t tell us that:

Salt might be ‘nature’s antidepressant’

Psychologist Kim Johnson and colleagues found in their research that when rats are deficient in salt, they shy away from activities they normally enjoy, like drinking a sugary substance or pressing a bar that stimulates a pleasant sensation in their brains.

“Things that normally would be pleasurable for rats didn’t elicit the same degree of relish, which leads us to believe that a salt deficit and the craving associated with it can induce one of the key symptoms associated with depression,” Johnson said.

The researchers can’t say that a lack of salt can induce clinical depression, but a “loss of pleasure in normally pleasing activities” is a key feature of psychological depression.

So, I’m sad because I cut back on the salt?

Maybe.

“The idea that salt is a natural mood-elevating substance could help explain why we’re so tempted to over-ingest it, even though it’s known to contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems”.

So why does salt make me happy?

Evolution might have played an important part in the human hankering for salt.

Humans evolved from creatures that lived in salty ocean water. Once on land, the body continued to need sodium and chloride because minerals play key roles in allowing fluids to pass in and out of cells, and in helping nerve cells transfer information throughout the brain and body.

But as man evolved in the hot climate of Africa, perspiration robbed the body of sodium. Salt was scarce because our early ancestors ate a veggie-rich diet and lived far from the ocean.

“Most of our biological systems require sodium to function properly, but as a species that didn’t have ready access to it, our kidneys evolved to become salt misers,” Johnson said.

Behavior also came to play a key role in making sure we have enough salt on board. Animals like us come equipped with a taste system designed to detect salt and a brain that remembers the location of salt sources — like salt licks in a pasture. A pleasure mechanism in the brain is activated when salt is consumed.

So the body needs salt and knows how to find it and how to conserve it.

But today scientists are finding evidence that it’s an abused, addictive substance — almost like a drug.

So now I’m hooked on salt?

Maybe.

When the researchers examined their salt-addicted lab rats, they found that the brain pathways linked to salt addiction were related to the brain pathways linked to drug addiction.

Great.

  • I can’t eat salt because I might get high blood pressure.
  • But, if the thought of a potential stroke is depressing, I should increase my salt consumption,
  • Unless I am concerned about becoming addicted to salt, using too much, getting high blood pressure and having a stroke.

Now I’m really confused.

Reference

Doug Robb is a personal trainer, a fitness blogger and author, a competitive athlete, a social media nerd and a student of nutrition and exercise science. Since 2008, Doug has brought his real-world experience online via his health & fitness blog, Health Habits.

22 Comments

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  4. TripleE

    June 14, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    I’m just a teen and I am already addicted to salt! I don’t usually put much salt on my meals but I will sneak lots of kosher salt and just eat it raw and then guzzle down a bottle or two of water.. Any ideas?

  5. VinegarGirl

    June 4, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    I’ve also learned that salt is nature’s antihistamine.

  6. Valspar

    May 2, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Its all about the minerals in the salt you are using. Celtic sea salt, the gray kind, has about 67 minerals naturally occuring in their salt. Magnesium is the largest of the mineral content, and there are a whole lot of other minerals to balance and absorb. Table salt, (Mortons), is made up of Sodium, Chloride and a bit if Iodine. This is not a good balanced salt. Your adrenals, pituitary and kidneys all need to be balanced to work properly and the combination of minerals in the Celtic sea salt help balance these organs and glands. I suggest it to people who sweat alot, it replenished the lost minerals, just put a bit in your water while working out. Remember minerals are also metals, if you don’t have the good minerals in place your body can grab the harmful metals and this can cause problems with communication within the cells.

  7. Amber

    April 22, 2009 at 9:37 am

    I am not certain. Iwill check today and if not, get it checked. Complicating issues is that I had gastric bypass surgery in summer of ’06, so my absorption of some nutrients can be poor. But generally speaking, my health post-op has been great.

  8. Amber

    April 21, 2009 at 9:57 am

    I had a baby in February. SInce then, I have craved salt like crazy. It started with eating pretzels. SOmetimes I woudl eat ant entire bag in a day, just to get to the salt that was at the bottom of the bag! Now, I have upgraded to buying bulk coarse grind sea salt and putting it (whole) on everything…sometimes even crunching is alone! I can’t seem to stop! I am acting like an addict and it is starting to really upset me. I can’t seem to get control of this. My bloodwork is fine…no real defficiencies…so what now???

  9. Losing Waist

    March 23, 2009 at 12:55 am

    I have been talking about this on my blog the last week. I truly subscribe to salt addiction now that I have been through a week of hell. I have cut it down drastically for MY consumption, but no where near anything extreme. Keeping my daily consumption between 1700-2500 a day made my anxiety levels shoot through the roof, along with throwing my hunger signals off. I became the bottomless pit, and nothing would satisfy the hunger. I lost weight because I was averaging 5,000 mgs/day and cut that down by half. It is a terrible feeling to eat an amazing dinner of balanced lean meats, heaps of dark green veggies, and a side of whole grains, and feel like you might take a life if you don’t get a bag of potato chips or a foot long hot dog. I have never responded to food commercials or shows until I started working on this… and TV turned into a nightmare. I don’t even like fried foods, monster burgers, or french fries… but that is all I could think about… meals with thousands of milligrams of salt. NO GOOD. No wonder people can’t stop eating fast- foods, and processed foods!

  10. darya

    March 16, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    John, maybe you should have some coffee and try one more time ;)

  11. John

    March 13, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Should say “not a sauce sauce fan.”

  12. John

    March 13, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Thanks Darya.

    Lucky for me I’m now a soy sauce fan. However, I will have to check the sodium content on my favorite teriyaki sauce.

  13. darya

    March 12, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    John,

    You’re a little wrong. Thin, otherwise healthy people who ingest too much salt are more likely to die of stroke than those who don’t. Look at the stroke rates in Japan, they are astronomical. They also happen to use a lot of soy sauce.

    That being said, a bigger problem in America is that most people who are eating too much salt are also obese and have a zillion other health problems. So even if salt isn’t the worse thing for “otherwise healthy” people, most people do not fit in that category.

  14. John

    March 12, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    this might get me in trouble, but I always thought the dangers of salt were overstated for the vast majority of the population. I think salt intake (unless ridiculously high) is among the last things folks who are otherwise healthy need to worry about. It doesn’t seem to cause problems, it only seems to make existing problems worse.

    Am I wrong?

  15. darya

    March 12, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    There is a big difference between creating a salt deficiency in rats and the amount of salt doctors recommend cutting back on in humans with high blood pressure (though we should be listening to scientists, not doctors). Most substances work on an upside-down, U-shaped curve, where too little is bad and too much is bad.

    For most of us, the real problem is the amount of salt packed into process foods to mitigate their lack of flavor. If you are salting your own vegetables, it is difficult to get too much salt. If you’re eating a lot of mac and cheese or fake salad dressing, you are going to have a bigger problem.

    Restaurant foods also have ridiculously high salt content.

  16. Build Muscle

    March 12, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Very interesting post. Fortunately for me, I hate table salt. There’s no two ways about it, I’m not going to eat it and that’s that. I hate salty food and I never put table salt on anything.

    Furthermore, sea salt is great. Often will I use sea salt in recipes and on hard boiled eggs. I don’t like a lot of it, just a pinch. So when will we see a study on sea salt? =)

  17. John Kaiser

    March 12, 2009 at 6:15 am

    What about the differences between table salt, kosher salt, and sea salt? I heard the latter two were healthier than the former. Is that true? To what degree? Because there is nothing I love more than topping off my dinner with a pinch of kosher salt.

  18. rambodoc

    March 11, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    I would love to know how many rat studies in the past, even if translated half-linearly, led to similar results in humans.

  19. McBloggenstein

    March 11, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Salt and depression! Interesting.
    I wonder how they decide that the rats are depressed. Just because they don’t feel like doing something they normally like? I bet they could get similar results if they dehydrated them.

    If I had to guess I would say it’s way easier to consume too much rather than too little. Maybe only raw foodists could possibly not get enough salt?

  20. DR

    March 12, 2009 at 9:10 am

    John,

    When can we expect another Ninja Warrior update?

  21. DR

    March 12, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Hey John,

    From what I understand,

    Table salt is mined as rock salt and then processed to become table salt (iodine is added)

    Sea salt is harvested from seawater through evaporation. Sea salt has a slightly different taste than table salt because of different minerals it contains. Those minerals also give sea salt it’s distinctive grey color. Another difference between sea salt and table salt is the lack of supplemental iodine in sea salt.

    Kosher salt can be made from either sea or rock salt. The main feature of kosher salt is that it is processed following the guidelines for kosher food layed out in the Torah. Like sea salt, kosher salt is usually processed without iodine.

    And if you think that’s it for salt, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet

  22. DR

    April 21, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Did your doc check for deficiencies in minerals? – magnesium & potassium deficiencies are quite common and can manifest in cravings for salt.

    Here is an intro to magnesium deficency

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