Shaking up the Salt Myth: The Human Need for Salt

In the first part of my series on salt, I discussed the historical significance of salt and its role in the evolution of humanity. Salt has been a highly prized substance for thousands of years across all cultures and continents. Yet over the past few decades, excess salt and sodium intake has been blamed for a variety of serious health conditions plaguing our country, such as heart disease, hypertension, and stroke.

Much debate has centered around determining the level of dietary salt required to maintain optimal health, but over the years the suggested upper limit has continued to shrink. According to the CDC, the average intake of sodium for American adults is about 3,300 mg of sodium a day, which is well above the standard recommendations. (1) The USDA urges Americans to consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, and the American Heart Association (AHA) has an even more strict guideline of consuming less than 1,500 mg a day for general health and disease prevention. (23)

It has been theorized that dietary salt consumption was extremely low in the Paleolithic diet – approximately 768 mg of sodium daily – and that inland hunter-gatherers added little or no salt to their food on a regular basis. (4) We know these hunter-gatherer diets did not lead to the chronic, Western diseases we see today. The question is, does low salt intake by our distant ancestors mean that adding salt to our food is necessarily harmful? Should we adhere to the AHA sodium guidelines of 1,500 mg or less per day? Or is there a healthy range of salt consumption that can not only support but optimize our health?

Physiological roles of salt in the human body

Despite its recent bad press, there is no doubt that an adequate intake of salt in the human diet is required to maintain good health. The Institute of Medicine recommends that healthy adults consume 1500 mg of sodium, or 3.8 grams of salt, to replace the amount lost daily on average through sweat and urination. (5) (Ironically, this recommendation is almost double the amount theoretically consumed by Paleolithic man.) The minimum physiological requirement of sodium simply to sustain life has been estimated to be 500 mg of sodium per day. (6)

Sodium is a vital nutrient. It’s a major component of extracellular fluid, and is essential for maintaining the volume of the plasma to allow adequate tissue perfusion and normal cellular metabolism. (7) Because sodium is used as an extracellular cation, it is typically found in the blood and lymph fluid. The maintenance of extracellular fluid volume is an important physiologic function of the sodium in the body, particularly in regards to cardiovascular health.

Besides helping to maintain fluid balance and cardiovascular function, sodium and chloride ions also play an important role in the nervous system. Changes in the concentrations of these ions allow neurons to send signals to other neurons and cells, allowing for nerve transmission as well as mechanical movement. Chloride ions provided by salt are secreted in the gastric juice as hydrochloric acid (HCL).  And HCL is vital to the digestion of food and the destruction of food-borne pathogens in the stomach. (8)

If a true sodium deficiency occurs, mammals experience symptoms of hyponatremia such as brain swelling, coma, congestive heart failure, cardiovascular collapse following acute blood loss, and impaired sympathetic cardiovascular adjustments to stress. (9) Animals in a truly sodium-deficient state will seek out salty food and often consume far more sodium than needed to restore homeostasis. (10) These behavioral changes in response to inadequate salt intake further demonstrate the biological importance of dietary salt.

Regulation of plasma sodium levels by the kidney

The kidney, when healthy, regulates sodium and water excretion using hemodynamic, neural, and hormonal inputs.  This allows it to respond appropriately to a wide range of dietary sodium intake. Aldosterone, a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, helps regulate the balance of water and electrolytes in the body.

An abrupt increase in dietary salt can cause a redistribution of fluid from the intra- to the extracellular space.  But after a few days, the kidney is able to compensate with extra sodium excretion to match the dietary intake. Therefore, healthy people are generally able to adapt to a wide range of salt intakes without a significant change in blood pressure. (11)

If sodium intake drops too low, our metabolism shifts into a sodium-sparing mode.  This stimulates the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone hormonal system, which in turn maintains osmotic balance and adequate blood pressure. (12) A significant increase in renin and aldosterone is a symptom of sodium insufficiency, and has been shown to occur as salt intake drops below 1.5 teaspoons per day. (13) Interestingly enough, the recommendation for 2,300 mg of sodium equates to approximately one teaspoon of salt. An intake this low is associated with an even more rapid rise in renin.

Another important dietary determinant of this renin-angiotensin-aldosterone hormonal system is potassium intake. Our biological machinery (which developed in the Paleolithic era) evolved in conjunction with a diet not only very low in sodium, but also very high in potassium-rich plant foods. (14) Unlike our Paleolithic ancestors, Americans are consuming very low amounts of potassium: approximately 3,200 mg per day in men and 2,400 mg per day in women. (15) The adequate intake as defined by the IOM is 4,700 mg per day, and preagricultural humans are estimated to have consumed fully 10,500 mg of potassium each day.(16)

This modern reversal of electrolyte consumption is another important consideration in determining the population-wide increase in rates of hypertension. Dietary potassium has been demonstrated to dose-dependently counter the pathophysiological effects associated with modern dietary excess of salt, including salt-sensitivity, a likely precursor of hypertension. Therefore, dietary potassium intake, in addition to the sodium to potassium ratio, may play a crucial role in the development of those diseases typically associated with a simple excess of sodium in the modern diet.

Evidence about human salt consumption

The human body has adapted complex physiological mechanisms in order to prevent blood pressure fluctuations in response to these variations in sodium intake. Not surprisingly, epidemiological data has revealed an average sodium intake range of 2400 mg to 5175 mg of sodium per day in developed cultures. (17) Certain isolated groups in areas such as Brazil, Papua New Guinea, and rural African communities have been found to live on sodium intakes of as little as 1150 mg per day. However, despite finding generally low blood pressure in these remote communities, the little evidence that exists on these low salt societies suggests shorter life expectancy and higher mortality rates.

An example from the Intersalt Study, which examined the impact of population-wide salt consumption on blood pressure, is the Yanomami Indians of the Brazillian rainforest, who are known for having far lower average blood pressure than that of Western populations. (1819) Their lifelong low blood pressure has been attributed to their extremely low consumption of salt, and this has been used as evidence to further support the effort to restrict salt from the American diet.

A major problem that arises from using the Yanomami as an example of the salt-hypertension hypothesis is the wide variety of confounding variables that may also affect their blood pressure. The Intersalt Study researchers admit that:

“In addition to low Na+ intake and high K+ intake, other factors that may contribute to the absence of hypertension and lack of blood pressure increase with age among the Yanomami Indians are as follows: their low body mass index and the almost nonexistence of obesity, no alcohol ingestion, low ingestion of saturated fat, high ingestion of fibers, relatively high physical activity, and the several cultural consequences of living in an isolated community without the psychosocial stress of civilization and without a monetary system or dependence on a job.” (20)

This data suggest there are many reasons the Yanomami have such low blood pressure.  These include high potassium intake, high physical activity, low stress levels, and complete lack of alcohol consumption. Furthermore, although the Yanomami have low blood pressure and nearly nonexistent rates of cardiovascular disease, their overall health outcomes are less than stellar. (21) They are described in ethnographic literature as having small stature, high mortality and a low life expectancy ranging between 29 and 46 years. (22) Despite these high mortality rates and confounding lifestyle factors, the Yanomami people are still used as a prime example in support of the salt-hypertension hypothesis.

The results of the Intersalt Study did not indicate any clear pattern between the level of salt intake and blood pressure in those countries studied. (23) And when average life expectancy is plotted against the countries’ average salt intake, the trend shows that higher salt consumption is actually correlated with longer life expectancy. While this correlation does not imply causation, it is interesting to note the compatibility of a high salt diet with a long life expectancy.

As we can see, there is an enormous range in the daily dietary sodium intake of various cultures around the world, ranging from quite low (1150 mg) to fairly high (5175 mg). Additionally, we know that the healthy kidney is capable of adjusting to fluctuating levels of sodium in the diet in order to maintain fluid homeostasis. Finally, we know that hunter-gatherer and Paleolithic diets were very low in sodium, and that salt was rarely, if ever, added to food. Therefore, it would seem that limiting salt in the diet to those levels recommended by the AHA and USDA would not have any significant consequences, and would be an ideal dietary choice when mimicking the diet of our ancestors. However, evidence is mounting to the contrary: a low-salt diet may actually lead to serious health consequences and higher overall mortality, particularly in conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

In my next article in this series, I will discuss the contradictory evidence regarding the dietary guidelines for salt reduction, as well as the potential risks of consuming a diet too low in salt.

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Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Samantha says

    “Non essential? i dare you to stop eating salt in any form to see what would happend.. do you know of something called HYPONATREMIA”

    As Vero’s castigation doesn’t have a reply box under it I have to start a new post to answer the common misunderstanding of the grammatical myth that salt is essential.
    Salt is not essential. but salts or electrolytes are.
    Daring me is history, realising NaCl or salt if you want is simply a preservative, condiment or seasoning, and that all the electrolytes the human body needs are in plant based foods, I haven’t eaten salt for years. I only eat plant based materials. Yes I get all the “SALTS” I need, potassium, sodium, magnesium, chloride etcetera etcetera from my diet.
    I neither eat or drink anything processed, and in the course cured a forty year old disease, which I was told was incurable.
    Obviously you Vero do not understand the difference between essential electrolytes (SALTS) and NaCl salt.
    Electrolytes are essential salts. Sodium Chloide or salt is non essential. The grammatical myth or usage of the word salt being necessary has made the industry trillions from people unable to understand basic English grammar.

  2. Bette says

    I always have a low Sodium reading and have been told it is lost through the fluid part of my BP Tablet. my Hear specialist tells me to have more Salt because it can cause an irritable Heart. What would this be please?

    • Samantha says

      Hello Bette, always difficult to comment on cases with small amounts of information. Maybe the diuretic drug (if you take one) drags water from wherever it wants, brain cells too, depleting sodium.
      I don’t know what an “irritable heart” means. If you are told to consume more “salt” because of low sodium count, then it is advice that is completely lacking in common sense.
      If you are low in sodium the worst place for some one with potential heart problems, is to get sodium from salt or sodium chloride. Some of the best natural source of sodium are in plant based foods. Celery juiced daily with some beetroot would be a good start. Industrialised toxic sodium chloride from processed foods is a slow but sure metabolic toxin.
      Even sea salts are mostly sodium chloride and any one with high blood pressure should use them sparingly if at all.
      Addiction to salt is as much a problem for the body as a host of other addictive substances. Good luck.

  3. jennifer says

    I make a effort to add celtic sea salt to my daily diet, at least a tsp or MORE you wouldn’t believe how much it helps your adrenals. I was on high blood pressure meds when I started doing this and now I am off! I also started taking Iodoral (iodine). I am 51 female, couldn’t lose weight and a host of other issues… now my life has changed.
    I wouldn’t go about all this without reading up on it and the help of a good doctor but if your interested in the reading I did you can get two books from Dr. Brownstein

  4. Manoj says

    Thank you for this very useful article. It helped me immensely on a topic that was of concern to me lately. Keep writing :)

  5. Ron Turmel says

    Most people are not aware of sodium’s twin, potassium.
    I just found out that the ratio of sodium to potassium should be about 2:4 In other words, you need twice as much potassium as you do sodium. . So for example, if you ingest two grams of sodium per day, you should balance that amount with four grams of potassium. We have been lied to about potassium. The FDA won’t allow potassium dosages in health food stores to exceed 99 milligrams per capsule or tablet. Two days ago I received five pounds of potassium chloride that I purchased on eBay for $10.00. I’m taking four grams of it every day, along with two grams of Himalayan Sea Salt, and I am feeling just fine. A lot of little aches and pains are quickly disappearing, and it is because
    of the added potassium. I have been using the sea salt for months and nothing changed until two days when I began to use the potassium. That’s how I know it’s the potassium and not the sea salt that helped me get better. If you really want the truth about potassium, go here:
    http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/salud/salud_potassium.htm

    • Sanantha says

      I think you are confusing sea salt and Himalayan rock salt.
      There were seas many millions of years ago in that area, but now it is a mountain range.

      Also before you go ingesting vast and unnecessary amounts of sodium chloride (Himalayan salt is virtually all NaCl) you might want to consider that rock based minerals are not as readily absorbable by the body, like plant based minerals are. Sodium from plants is the metabolic requirement for proper metabolism, not from NaCl.

      Humans are designed to ingest electrolytes (SALTS) from plants, not from rocks.

      A high salt diet can cause all kinds of horrible diseases, especially kidney stones later in life.

    • James Anderson says

      Instead of trying to get your electrolytes from industrial chemicals like NaCl and KCl, Aim to get this from your diet. Go to a food market twice a week and buy the freshest looking fruits and veggies you can find. Also if available go to an Asian (other specialty market) as they have varieties of veggies you would otherwise not have access and variety prevents deficiencies in any particular nutrient. Eat large amounts of these veggies hand washed to remove pesticides. Removing pesticides from a diet completely can be nearly impossible without buying organic but you can reduce the amounts by an average of 95% buy thoroughly washing with a soft cloth like deer skin. Then soak in clean ice water for at least 10 minutes to prime for cooking, then mildly cook; meaning cooked only to the point to remove the “raw” (mild toxins and anti nutrients will denatured). This will turn them a brighter color. If the color gets darker you have overcooked or boiled (If boiled make sure to drink the broth as this contains all the vitamins released in the boiling water. Veggies should account for most of your diet with added whole unprocessed fruits, nuts, grains, seeds. Human’s do not actually need as much protein as we are told. (Aim for 10 hours of sleep per night, helps the body create proteins) A piece of meat the size of your fist is much too much per meal if you eat the above foods also. You should only eat an amount of meat the size of 1/4 your fist. Cook the meat separately cut up finely and add it to the veggies for flavor and to add essential amino acids again only mildly cooked (enough to kill any bacteria/parasites but not to burn). If you begin to feel carbohydrate deficient (low blood sugar) do to high insulin levels on the above diet eat more potato, or small amounts of cooked jasmine rice (fruit will usually not help the insulin relate low blood sugar because fructose (the main sugar in fruit, has little effect on blood sugar when eaten as whole fruit). Living like this over time will reduce aging and increase human growth hormone, sex hormones, increase muscle mass, stop hair loss, eliminate dry skin, increase vision, hearing, smell and taste, IQ will increase, waist will shrink, and bones will be more flexible and yet not more dense they will be less likely to be brittle and break from from force ( like to difference between a wet branch and a dry branch.) any live teeth will replenish enamel, (root canals kills the tooth, sorry dentists are crude in their science ), and you will have more energy to exercise mind, body and soul.

  6. Ron Turmel says

    Hey guys & girls

    Ignore everything I previously stated. I just found out that more salt is actually good for you. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation did a huge study and found out that the countries that have the highest salt consumption per person live an average of 11 years longer than those who restrict their salt intake! We’ve been scammed folks. Salt is good for you — the more the better. Check out: http://www.saltinstitute.org/news-articles/does-salt-lead-to-longer-life/ Also, I think I was a little harsh on Chris in my first post. If it wasn’t for him, I would never had found out the truth about salt. He got me to searching for more data. Thank you Chris — now I can use 5 grams of salt a day and live about 11 years longer. By the way, the best salt to use is Himalayan Pink salt, which has many trace minerals intact, since ii is sun-dried and not heated in hot stoves as commercial salt normally is. Find out more about Himalayan Pink salt here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HVJI7KI?psc=1 and here:
    http://www.saltworks.us/himalayan-salt.asp#.U0cn_PldWQz?gclid=COfQzqTPhL8CFQMaOgodwWwASQ

    • says

      Their graph tells us people with an average salt consumption live the longest (that major cluster in the middle of the x axis). If you go higher sodium it seems to lead to shorter lifespan. The traced “trends” overlaid on the original image of the graph are very inaccurate.

      Keep in mind that this is a correlation and not a cause to effect. Wealthy nations are not only the ones who consume the most salt, but also the ones with the best health systems, vaccines, technology and the least physical work. It’s to be expected that they live longer independently of their salting habits.

      Also The Salt Institute’s “dedicated to advancing the many benefits of salt” makes them prone to cherry-picking studies in favor of salt.

      Your theory and link about the “Potassium Defiency Scam” is quite an interesting one. What if the receptors in our mouth were in fact more about sensing potassium ions than sodium?

      Myself I’ve been thinking, having sugar receptors doesn’t mean eating spoonfuls of sucrose (or adding it into your every meals) is healthy right? Both these receptors evolved to become highly sensitive because these nutrient used to be scarce in our environment (salt even more so than sugar), not because we need to eat much of them and do so regularly.

  7. Ron Turmel says

    Do not believe anything about salt on this website. I just weighed a teaspoon of salt on my “tenth of a gram” sensitive electronic scale and it weighed 6.7 grams, not 2.3 grams as Chris Kresser stated. I quote from the article above: “Interestingly enough, the recommendation for 2,300 mg of sodium equates to approximately one teaspoon of salt.” If you listen to this dude, you could seriously hurt yourself, or kill yourself. Don’t believe me? Just weight a gram of ordinary table salt and see for yourself.

    • Ron Turmel says

      In my previous post (above) I said “Just weight a gram of ordinary table salt and see for yourself.” That is an error. I meant to say “Just weight a teaspoon of ordinary table salt and see for yourself.” Sorry ’bout that.

    • Kat says

      Salt is sodium chloride. Only some of it is sodium in other words, in fact only about half or less So the 6 grams of salt being 2.3 grams of SODIUM is quite okay, the rest is the chloride and whatever “free flow agents” have been added to table salt.

  8. says

    While laying in the hospital one time for a minor illness, I wondered about the bag of saline solution going into my arm. I asked the nurse if I tasted the solution would it taste salty, she said yes, so I wondered how salty. I checked on the internet in how to make saline solution and the answer was 1 teaspoon of salt in a cup of water (8 oz). The bag going into my arm was a 1000 mili liters (ml) of fluid. I converted that to ounces, turned out to be 33.3 ounces, so 4 cups (4 tsp) so –the amount being injected into my body at that time, and upon the completion of the bag, was 4 teaspoons of salt into my blood stream, When that bag was empty they added one more until empty, so that was 8 teaspoons of salt added to my blood stream in one day!!! Now I don’t know about you but I’ve never shook 8 teaspoons of salt on my food in one year let alone one day. I realize that most of salt intake comes from sodium in processed food. Still 8 x 2500 mg of sodium = 20,000 mg of sodium injected into my body that day at the same time giving me a low salt diet of food that tasted like sh– and allowing me no possibility to shake any salt on my food.

    The body does not make sodium or water. You have to add those items through you mouth, so everyone should be taking salt tablets everyday along with a lot of water and potassium to make sure ones body has enough to. stay hydrated and healthy.

    • Andrew says

      No one should be taking salt tablets as a way of life as they are unnatural; unless of course you are metabolically challenged or need an operation.

      Of course the body doesn’t make sodium, which is why nature provided this mineral in the earth. The body uses sodium that has been chelated (attached) to a protein molecule. These minerals are referred to as organic. And you can find chelated sodium in huge quantities in plants.

      Advocating ingesting inorganic sodium from a tablet, to provide the body, with an essential electrolyte it gets naturally and organically from nature, is astonishingly bad advice.

      Plants create essential sodium in a form our bodies can use as nature intended. Through photosynthesis, plants bind inorganic minerals to a protein molecule. This process transforms the inorganic minerals into a form that is metabolically in tune with the sodium the body needs

      Juice or eat sodium rich plant life. Pills and tablets are not the answer to proper nutrition and never have been.

  9. Food Scientist says

    Human physiology developed more than 50 million years ago in tropical rainforests.

    Our ape ancestors had negligible sodium intake and a massive potassium intake.

    Experiments on chimpanzees show that a sodium intake over 800mg/day causes hypertension. Intakes over 10g/day cause severe hypertension (>30mmHg increase in systolic BP.)

    • Ron says

      FS – Thank you for some rationality and science here! Can’t people just look at salt and see that it is an extracted chemical? Can’t they see that it became popular as a way to preserve meat, i.e., beef jerky?

    • Andrew says

      It is truly wonderful that your cardiac arrhythmia and audible palpitation has gone using sea salt.

      You say that table salt would have corrected your heart’s faulty behaviour just fine, tho’ you didn’t use table salt, presumably because it is full of toxic anti caking agents, aluminum hydroxide, an alloy linked to brain disease, bleached, and oh yes, just a touch of ferro cyanide for good measure.

      Wise choice to stay away from industrialised, chemically adulterated, toxic sodium chloride products.

  10. lewis brooks says

    Dr. put me on no-salt diet 2 weeks ago. Now feel tired all the time and since then have double vision and trouble reading even with glasses. Maybe the brain is affected ?

    • Andrew says

      A “no salt diet” ? What does that mean? You cannot eat anything at all that is totally devoid of all “SALTS”

      Do you mean he advised you to stop eating table salt?

      If so the body now has chance to dump all the industrial pollutants from table salt into your bloodstream, possibly resulting in your symptoms.

      • says

        Andrew, I think what Lewis and the article is referring to by “salt” is the molecule NaCl.

        The quantity in which it is consumed affects the body in ways a lot more powerful and significant than the toxic pollutant additives you’re bringing up.

        • Andrew says

          I agree that ingesting unnecessary table salt is seriously damaging to health. However I don’t agree that table salt has a more “powerful and significant” affect on the body, than decades of ingesting table salt’s metabolic pollutants of aluminates, fluoride, anti-caking agents, toxic amounts of potassium iodide and aluminium derivatives linked to brain disease.

      • Andrew says

        Can the body de-salinize in such a very short time to produce hyponatraemia?

        Unless the diet, not only restricted from toxic industrialised table salt, is also restricted in eating the correct foods that govern all the electrolytes.

        Or the body is simply metabolically challenged due to decades of eating dead food laced with toxic, polluted preservatives like industrialised table salt.

        • says

          It took (24 years old) me about 3 months of not eating prepared meals, cooked meats and very little canned foods for arrhythmias and palpitations to show up.

          I was and am still eating primarily fruit and raw vegetables and optional small amounts of everything else (legumes, grains, seeds, nuts, meat, dairy and honey; as raw as possible), with the difference that now I periodically include a salty meal (canned fish, and I drink the brine).

          My systolic is 110-115, diastolic 70-75, pulse 80.

          • Andrew says

            Have you ever considered getting your blood checked for sodium levels?

            If you were also eating toxic prepared meals,
            cooked meats loaded with preservatives, anti biotics and growth hormones and some canned foods, there is every chance that when you stopped eating these toxins, your arrhythmias and palpitations were not caused by less toxic sodium chloride in your body, but caused when you body was given the opportunity to dump metabolic pollutants and toxic waste into your blood stream.
            A change of diet for the better often results in an initial crisis for the body.

            • says

              My blood happened to be checked a few weeks before my so-called sodium (or chloride) deficiency episode. Sodium had never worried me up until then, I had gotten the test because I wanted to see the effects of my intermittent fasting (I had been eating one big meal every two days for about 2 months).

              Last time I saw my doctor we consulted the results only rapidly, because nothing stood out except my lower than optimal protein level (after eating only fruit and vegetables for 3 months, which is to be expected when you come from a life of eating meat at least once a day).

              Now I want to cut off sodium completely again (I got my hands on a big overstock of deli meats, it took me a month to go through them, that got me full of salt again), and intermittent fast more intensely (at least 48 hours between each meal, I can do 72 easily now), wait and see if the heart symptom will return, when they do (or even if they don’t), go get checked up again, and return to my doctor and get the full print of my history.

              I will reply to this comment with the sodium levels and other data, just give me about two months to try and flush up the sodium I’ve eaten and intermittent fast more.

              My blood pressure after eating much salt again at every meal for a almost a month is still 110/70.

  11. Andrew says

    Serge Alex Gagnon said

    “Sodium deficiency for me manifested itself as cardiac arrhythmia and audible palpitation before falling asleep. I started adding salt to my water and the problem suddenly vanished”

    It’s a shame that we don’t know what you mean by salt.
    The industrialised toxin, that is table salt, full of anti caking agents and bleached? Sea salt? Rock salt?

    Confusion reigns when the word salt is used, as if it has only one meaning. What salts are you referring to?

  12. says

    Sodium deficiency for me manifested itself as cardiac arrhythmia and audible palpitation before falling asleep. I started adding salt to my water and the problem suddenly vanished.

  13. James Harrison says

    I just came back from 12 days at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, FL. My personal result made me a believer in Low Salt (No Salt) diets. My Blood Pressure dropped 19 points on the systolic pressure in the first week.

    This a a quote from there website:
    In 2005, a meta-analysis of 1,117 hypertensives who came to Pritikin reported that systolic blood pressure fell on average 9%. Diastolic pressure fell 9%. Of those on blood pressure drugs, 55% returned home free of their drugs, their blood pressures in the normal range. Many of the remaining 45% left Pritikin with their dosages substantially reduced.

    I never knew of a person that died or even a 911 call from lack of salt. I do know of millions that have died from Hi Salt diets.

    • Ron says

      James – You are right on. I believe the extensive experience of the Pritikin Center, the Rice Diet Center at Duke University, and countless others who advocate eating only the natural sodium in food.
      Salt was first used as a preservative / drying agent. No animals seek sodium chloride. Salt licks are enticing to animals, but unnecessary.

  14. Andrew says

    It is a shame that the word salt will be manifestly confusing when entering discussions such as this. Though sodium and chlorine as other “salts” are essential, the poison that is industrialised table salt has only a detrimental effect on the body, given you are eating some fruit and vegetables daily.
    Admittedly if for some reason you manage to deplete your body of all “salts” (Pottasium, Magnesium etc.) highly unlikely on any diet) then you will become very sick and probably die. If you never touch sodium chloride in the form of industrialised table salt, you will automatically be healthier, as all the sodium required is fruits and veggies. I have proved it I never touch table salt, am 63 go logging, gardening, cycling, mountain climbing, swimming and tree climbing etc etc. I eat and drink nothing from a tin or can or packet or bottle and have now cured my asthma having been told by professionals that my asthma was incurable.

    • Ron says

      Andrew – Cool – Awesome! Thanks.
      I assume your blood pressure is pretty good. Can you let us know?
      Thanks.

      • Andrew says

        Ron. Sorry this has taken ages. Been away sailing. Yes totally normal blood pressure, as you would expect from not ingesting any forms of sodium chloride.

        • Ron says

          Andrew – Thanks – I stopped NaCl and get my sodium from food — mainly spinach, carrots, tomatoes — I’ll watch my BP to see.
          Pointed out in today’s Wall Street Journal is that NaCl causes fibrosis in kidneys and ll blood vessels and is primary cause of kidney failure and most strokes . . .

  15. says

    I’ve been on a no salt diet for over 2 months, and this is the 3rd time i’ve chosen to do so. It’s effects on consciousness are astounding, so much so, that I firmly believe via personal experience that salt is an addiction and toxin to the body. If you wish to inquire more or address this concern in your body and empower your authentic self so that you feel and think radiantly, let me know. If you wish to continue to feel and function less than exquisitely, less than brilliantly, here I am to activate you.

    • Ron says

      Hi Matthew – I am very interested in talking with you about this. I have gotten salt pretty low now, and I notice many MDs and RDs are recommending NO added salt. Now, when I eat NaCl, I can actually taste the chlorine ion – no kidding!
      You invited us to get in touch with you, but how?
      Ron

    • sammy says

      Hey Matthew, I’m interested to know are you cutting added salt or keeping sodium low in general?

      Are you exercising regularly and/or do you live in a hot/warm climate?

      Also what’s an average daily breakdown of what you eat. I’m intrigued as to how you prevent hyponatraemia, especially if/when you are doing your recommended 30 mins of exercise 3-5 days per week?

  16. Christopher Hereford says

    Hi Chris,

    I think your article was very informative. You have laid out your thoughts so well, that everything you said actually made a lot of sense to me!

    I hate it when people tell me not to each too much salt. I eat adequately, take care to get enough physical exercise, fresh air and clean water, and I have never visited a doctor in over 36 years. I feel that too much of anything is bad, and everything in moderation can give you an extremely satisfying life! (Although a healthy salt intake can actually be good for you!)

    Thank you for your time in enlightening us with your study!

  17. Megan says

    Hi everyone. In this article Chris mentions that sodium deficiency “can lead to impaired sympathetic cardiovascular adjustments to stress” Something I definitely wanted to dig deeper for a richer understanding. But unfortunately, the link that points to his citation is dead. Anyone know what study Chris was alluding to? Running a pubmed and google scholar search came up empty. If anyone can point me in the right direction, it would be a great help.

      • leo says

        yes it sure does I had to visit the emergency hosp when I was feeling weak and throwing up they said my salt reading was 105 should be 135 to 145 and they gave me sodium drip for a week now ok and have a monthly blood test to watch my sodium and potassium levels

  18. Ann says

    I wonder if hunter gathers living near the ocean, and eating salty ocean fish and seaweed obtained the right amount of salt. If you lived inland, you did not get enough salt. Perhaps humans were meant to get salt through the ocean and live near coastines.

  19. Samara says

    So, I have increased my daily salt intake without increasing my calories and I am losing weight. About 5 pounds a week. Why would this be?

  20. adair says

    Very interesting article.I get terrible muscle cramps(all over my body) and take a magnesium supplement.I realised that alone was not helping.I increased my salt,potassium and water intake and it seems to have done the trick.

  21. Rob says

    How they ever came up with the 10g of potassium per day figure for Paleolithic people is beyond me. Do you realize how much food is required to obtain that amount? Unless they consumed a lot of fruit, leafy greens and tubers there’s absolutely no way they would have the time to forage and consume that amount of food. I get between 4000 and 5000g per day but I have to work at it. I include spinach, potatoes, bananas and low-sodium V8 juice (850g of potassium per 1 cup serving) to ensure I meet my daily target. I also drink a cup of beet root juice per day (650g per cup). Without the juices it would be very difficult to meet the 4700g/day target.

    • Cindy says

      Why would you want to drink processed juice when you have access to fresh greens and fruit?
      The best way to drink a juice is freshly pressed, just buy yourself a juicer. Nutritional value goes down after it is canned or bottled, unless it is preserved in some way. Whatever they put in these bottles or cans, you can do yourself, and at least be sure of the quality of your drink.
      If you still need the extra potassium, just buy a supplement at a health food store, or simply try to better balance your diet.

      • Rob says

        I don’t know how it is in the USA but here where I live you can’t just simply walk into any pharmacy and buy potassium. I had to ask the pharmacist for it. He talked about the possible problems one can experience if they are not careful with it. I could try throwing some bananas into a blender with some other fruits. Btw, the beet root juice I buy is a quality organic juice.

      • Rob says

        I had mentioned in an earlier post that my caloric intake is 2400/day. Any more than that is excessive. I’m not a young pup anymore. If I had to rely on solid food alone for potassium I’d never come close to the RDA of 4700mg. That’s why I need a low calorie source that yields a high amount of potassium. V8 gives me 850mg/cup.

  22. says

    About 3 years ago my cardiologist told me I had an extra heart beat. He suggested that I use beta blockers. After doing a Google search I found that it can be caused by kidney problems or potassium.
    So I went back to the doctor and asked why he did not test my kidneys and potassium level? I am amazed that he gets paid big $$$ and I have to do his job for him. The test indicated nothing wrong. I did not tell him that I had started using 2000 mg of potassium daily. That stopped my symptoms. I can tell when my potassium level is low. Now I take 2-3000 mg per day. Then I found a salt expert. WOW. He is using salt and restructured water and able to reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics 50-60 points in about 1 hour. This is Real Salt that has about 80 minerals in it. Anyway he uses about 1 teaspoon of Real Salt everyday. I remembered when I played high school football in 1964-1965 we were given salt tablets everyday. I have always perspired a lot my whole life. I found that if I use 1/4 teaspoon of Real Salt my perspiration virtually stops. So now I use about 1 teaspoon of Real Salt each day too. I think the salt helps to conserve the water in my body. My blood pressure is 110-130/70-80.
    My wife has had back pain for about 10 years from a fall. She has had one back surgery and the doctors say she may need another one. She was in the hospital for 3 days with pain. All 3 days she was given sodium and potassium intravenously. After 3 days her back pain and swelling were completely gone. We have found that she needs more Real Salt to keep her back pain down. We have also used a magnetic device that helps too. So could it be that pain may be associated with to little salt in our diet. I am not referring to tablet salt either.
    If this is true how many people could be saved from drug addiction and the damage that drugs do to us.
    I have read that Roman Soldiers were paid in salt.
    I am not a doctor and this is not medical advise.
    If anyone would like more information please send me an e-mail TR5003@gmail.com
    Thank you,
    Terry Riney

      • Cindy says

        I’m not sure what Terry’s comment means about restructured water either, but it is true that the water we drink today has added chemicals if it is from tap, and the bottled source water is not much better either, since it is bottled in plastic, and does not guarantee the mineral content which pure source water would normally have. The majority of the water sold in stores has zero mineral content.
        As far as salt, using salt without the use of other minerals does not sound like a healthy choice. Unprocessed salt should contain many minerals to help us balance our diet and our health, which might be why sodium and potassium helped his friend. It’s the balance of minerals which matters. Table salt is typically processed to eliminate minerals and has added chemicals to prevent clumping. Natural salt does not look white either. Unfortunately, salt is often used to add weight to packaging. Watch out for the labels on “natural” fruit juice for example, as they contain a lot of salt, and of course added sugar, but that’s another story.

  23. steve says

    I have severe pains in my knees and hips and recently get cramps in fingers and calves, could this be a lack of salt as I sauna almost every day and lose salt from sweating. DR. no good, need some advice please. steve

    • James says

      Steve yes you need to take in more salts . I use unrefined salt . It’s called Real Redmond Salt from UT . I take about 3/4 a day and drink 70 oz of water a day and i weigh 120 pounds and 5″2 and 61 years old . And I have been taking a little more salt the last week and filling better yet . So yes you need at least 1 tea spoon a day or more . I also don’t have broken blood vessels in my hands any more . Hope this helps you .

  24. Justin says

    1)The Yanomami are an uncommonly aggressive tribe. They are actually quite crazy. They are always trying to start wars with their neighboring tribe. (Not to mention their close relatives to the north west (the head shirkers) who the government is even afraid to get close too.) 2) These tribes are extremely marginalized. If they are not killing each other the government is killing them. They need to get everything they live on from their environment. 3) Who said that the Paleolithic man had a much higher life expectancy than 30 – 40 years? The Yanomami are a great example of what life was probably like.

  25. Dean says

    No way preagriultural humans consumed >10g potassium a day on average. That would require ungodly amounts of food, not to mention plants.

    • Justin says

      Wow wow wow now. We used to bake all our meat in or around a fire, commonly right in the ashes. The meat used to be covered in the stuff.

    • Evan Eberhardt says

      3-4 pounds of meat, red meat has more, will get you to about 4-6 grams of potassium. Depending on what other foods were also eaten, 10 grams is doable, but does seem a bit high.

    • bananabender says

      New Guinea Highlanders still eat 3-4Kg of sweet potatoes every day. This is equivalent to 15,000-20,000mg/day of potassium.

      Wild chimpanzees consume about 40,000mg of potassium/day.

    • bananabender says

      I get at least 10g of potassium per day (3Kg of fruit).

      Real anthropologists (as opposed to ‘paleo’ bloggers) will tell you that most ‘primitive’ societies ate plant-based diets with very little meat.

    • James says

      If you are craving salt is because your body is telling you you need it . When you get to much you will fill funny and the salt wont taste so good . then back off . go with your instinct .

      • Samantha says

        “If you are craving salt is because your body is telling you, you need it”

        This is an appalling observation and advice for someone who is obviously already addicted to sodium chloride.

        The last thing that body needs is more.

        Eat or juice celery and get the proper sodium you require if you are low in sodium. Preferably organic.

        The most likely scenario is that the industrial poison that you eat and so crave, is playing havoc with your natural sodium levels. Table salt and salt in packaged foods is laced with toxic pollutants.

        if you need more proper SALTS eat plant based foods which are designed by nature to supply us with all the SALTS required.

        Your advice to someone already addicted to a substance is ill advised.

        • Evan Eberhardt says

          That is simply wrong. With sugar, yes. With salt, no. If you are craving salt, I would suggest feeding that craving. Should we ignore thirst also? Most signals from the body are doing the right thing. Have a big fat juicy steak loaded with sea salt would be my recommendation (animal meat always was on the menu, whereas a bag of super starchy chips fried in some foul modern rancid oil was not).

          • Samantha says

            What a ridiculous analogy to compare water, an essential for life, with sodium chloride, an non essential for life.

            .

            • Chris says

              Sodium is essential to life.

              Why else would it be prized so much throughout human history? Why else would it taste so good to our taste buds?

              It’s a perfectly fair comparison. And if you have not read the article, which judging by your comments, might be the case, the relationship between sodium consumption and the various diseases may be weaker than you think.

              • Samantha says

                Clearly you don’t understand much about what was written yourself. That is if you are able to make any sense of the comment that “should we ignore thirst” no of course not, which has no correlation at all to the cravings for compounds like sodium chloride;
                Which is non essential to life.
                As for saying that sodium tastes so good on our buds and
                sodium was prized so much throughout history, sodium doesn’t and wasn’t. It is sodium chloride you are referring to not sodium. Shame you don’t even understand the comments you are responding to.

                • Vero says

                  Non essential? i dare you to stop eating salt in any form to see what would happend.. do you know of something called HYPONATREMIA?

        • Sammy says

          My apologies from the onset but I think it is you Samantha who is ill advised. Obviously I’m talking to someone who believe green is the way of life and while I do see its health benefits, your arguments are somewhat flawed.

          Firstly, ok we get it, you’re pro eating plants. However let me set you straight on a couple of things. Firstly I don’t believe plants were “designed” for human consumption. I think it’s pretty clear from an evolutionary stand point that not even primates existed before vegetation.

          Secondly, if plants were “designed” to be eaten by humans, when then did humans evolve to not process/digest cellulose in all plant matter. True herbivores granted can consume it and obtain energy from it but humans on the whole cannot, hence why it is passed through the body and soon is excreted.

          Thirdly, I know you seem to be a green freak, and i’m all for this “gotta save the world” concept but there is no actual scientific study which concludes that organic produce is healthier for us. It has a lot of theory and speculation but on the amounts in which we eat them there is little actual evidence to support it is beneficial.

          As Evan points out, one cannot simply argue that salt fits the same with all other addictions. Sodium is an important factor for the body to exist. Too little and people will often find themselves close to passing out, fatigue and in worse cases coma and death. Once the body’s sodium is fully depleted it cannot then “turn” to another source internally. Not like sugar for example. Therefore different substances that we put in our body have different importances. When our bodie crave things, somethings should be overlooked. Others should not.

          Again apologies if this seemed offensive or too personal.

          • Samantha says

            “Green is the way of life” Where did you get that from? All colours from plant material are important! Obviously a green basher I take it?
            Even mainstream medicine adcovates “green”
            What’s this “gotta save the world” stuff?
            Disingenuous inferences are pointless.
            And if there is something wrong with saving our planet, move to another one.

            I would argue some points with you, but I can’t be bothered with any one who actually believes that food laced with metabolic toxins grown in mineral depleted soil, is no different to food grown in mineral rich soil without the need for toxins. Corporate scientists have been fooling the world and obviously you for decades. They are paid to. You’ve bought it.
            Remember this: organic food is simply what your grandparents called food. Understand now?
            As for apologising for being insulting, don’t bother, it is so patronisingly creepy.

  26. caban says

    I probably meet daily requirements of sodium intake, but the same doesn’t go with potassium ( probably less then 3000 mg/day ). Could this be the reason of regular bowel dysregulations ( hard to exactly explain what is happenning to me, but I feel some kind of blockage in my bowels and I know that at that moment I can’t eat anything more, unless I want to amplify this feeling and get tired/weak )?
    Anyone has any ideas maybe for some really rich potassium foods?

    • Emma says

      Dark green veggies! They are all very high in potassium (and a lot of other good things!) You can also get potassium from: bananas, various beans, mushrooms, avocados, potatoes and sweet potatoes, tomatoes… a lot of healthy fruits and vegetables!

      • Robert says

        Without my V8 juice (low sodium version) I probably wouldn’t meet the 4700mg RDA. I take in about 2400 calories per day so I could never meet the RDA target by eating solid food alone. A cup of V8 provides 850mg of potassium. I top up my cup right to the brim which probably brings the potassium total to 1000mg. Potatoes and spinach are two excellent sources but I wonder what the effect of over consuming dark leafy greens would be. That’s a lot of oxalic acid. On the other hand, I don’t hear many health professionals recommend against eating lots of leafy greens.

    • Pete says

      Not really a diet tip, but a big problem in the west is the idea that bowel movements should be a once-a-day occurrence. Most animals defecate shortly after eating since the new food intake stimulates movement throughout the system. Ignoring the urge trains the body to become constipated, which might be your problem. You could try getting into the habit of going 1/2 hour after each meal. If you sit and nothing happens, then wait until after the next meal and try again.

      Also, try squatting with your feet on the toilet seat (yes, this does mean taking your pants off). This changes the angle of the final “delivery” and makes it easier and cleaner to fully empty yourself.

      • Craig says

        The assumption that our bodies are tuned to paleo diet seems dubious; for example lactose tolerance in cow milk drinking ethnic groups developed in the past 10,000 years.

        • Jayjay says

          Or perhaps in a way, lactose tolerance helps illustrate the point- that there are foods eaten in large quantities that a large number of people can not tolerate. Also, just because lactase regulation developed quickly in some populations doesn’t mean every other dietary adaptation could or did. And at the very least it represents a plausible alternate diet for someone to *try* if the mainstream recommendations don’t seem to be working.

  27. says

    Hm, I think I don’t seem to get it. If I have the choice between a product with 100% salt, or one with 70% salt + 20% potassium chloride + 10% Magnesiumcitrate, what is the better choice?

      • Brad says

        OK, thanks Chris. I have actually been feeling some odd symptoms since eating strict paleo: cold hands and feet, some moodiness, etc…Made me think of a thyroid issue, but since I cut out salt, that might make sense since salt has an effect on the thyroid.

        Its always a work in progress, haha. I am sure you know this first hand.

        Thanks!
        Brad

        • Evan Eberhardt says

          You might also be eating too little. When I did strict paleo I got very tired and later tracked my eating and I wasn’t even clearing 1500 calories a day! Steak and fruit simply are not very calorie dense compared to a big greasy cheeseburger with fries and a milkshake (1500 calories in one sitting). I felt better in some ways, but found myself napping a lot and was extremely cold. I have since gone Weston A Price and include lots of dairy fat in my diet.

  28. Stan says

    you can eat more salt if it is included in prepared foods where it is masked with sugar, if your add salt yourself it would be harder to overconsume

  29. says

    @Ed That was the first thing that popped into my head when I read that as well. Did early man seek out sources of salt like we know animals do? If for no other reason than natural salt licks are a great place to hunt? Or are scientists able to estimate sodium averages based on bone composition?

    Personally, I feel terrible when I eat a low sodium but it sounds like that may have much more to do with the ratio of electrolytes (e.g. too little potassium) than the absolute amount of any individual element. Maybe I should start tracking how much potassium I am getting from diet + supplements and see how I compare… :-)

    • Kay says

      If you go by Biblical historical data, the first humans were located near the great rivers of the Mid-East and if I’m correct many of them had high salt contents. The types of salt obtained near the pyramids are also pure salts. So salt was a large part of their lives and a way of preserving foods, as they didn’t have freezers, glass canning jars, etc. I suspect they got much more salt than we would think, and those higher in trace minerals as well. I think you also hit the nail on the head, perhaps we should be tracking our potassium instead.

  30. Andrew says

    Wow.. If I’m reading this correctly, you just indicated that Paleo man might have had some nutritional behavior that wasn’t optimal. Shocking! ;) I’m very curious how Paleo man survived electrolyte balance with such a low-sodium intake however. Strenuous activity and walking seems to be in everyone’s mind when they think about Paleolithic life. Certainly sweating was a daily event. I’ve always thought sodium to be the most important electrolyte needed for replacement. Could it actually be potassium? It would make more sense since potassium was more available than sodium at the time. Haven’t researched it… The K to NA ratio was like 20:1!

    • Evan Eberhardt says

      If the Masai are any indicator, a lot of strenuous activity probably didn’t occur. Consider how few humans there were and how many animals existed in the past. Hundreds or even thousands for every one person probably. Gathering was a far bigger chore than hunting is my guess (depends on the area of course though…but consider that the US plains had perhaps 60 million bison whereas the natives never came anywhere remotely close to such numbers). A nice sized kill could feed an entire village and only a few men would have been on the hunt. I simply don’t envision copious amounts of sweating happening every day, and indeed, some of these populations, like the Masai, may not have survived such conditions.

  31. Ed says

    “Finally, we know that hunter-gatherer and Paleolithic diets were very low in sodium, and that salt was rarely, if ever, added to food”– via time traveling ethnographers? How do we know that? I thought salt was prized and sought after….

  32. Barb says

    Can I say, what an odd and inappropriate comment to make on a posting about salt intake? Perhaps your thoughts on skin color and what “real” people look like would be better addressed in a personal email?

  33. Deanna says

    It is true that the Yanomami live shorter life expectancies than us, but perhaps that is bc they don’t have as much of a high/easy access to BP-lowering medication, or other overall healthcare. If we had the same healthcare as they do, perhaps our life expectancies would be lower. and maybe not healthcare maybe something else. I guess I think that there could be a lot of confounding variables, and no study can hold all of them constant. so yeah maybe a diet of high salt content may be *compatible* with a longer life, but that’s maybe because of something else that we’re doing that’s making up for it (ex- healthcare) – maybe we could have an even longer lifestyle if we lowered our salt intake more. the high salt intake could still be lowering our life expectancy.

    my prof who taught hypertension said that most hypertension is not salt-sensitive; however few people are hurt by the lower salt intake, so that’s the rationale behind the diet. I guess I didn’t dig the literature, but I feel like that makes sense.

    • Mac says

      Deanna is close in pointing out the flaw in using the high mortality rate of the Yanomami. What the study needs to do is eliminate deaths due to accident/trauma, injury, infection, etc – in order to get to the “expected” mortality rate. If you get a serious infection from a cut out in the jungle, you’re toast. That has nothing to do with salt intake. However, analyzing the mortality rate of those who died “natural” deaths would be much more revealing.

    • Kay says

      Deanna, you mention that perhaps their short life expectancies, the Yanomami, is because they don’t have as much of a high/easy acces to BP lowering medication. You missed the part in the article that states they have low blood pressure. They don’t need BP lowering medication.

      • Rob says

        “You missed the part in the article that states they have low blood pressure. They don’t need BP lowering medication.”

        Yes, I too was baffled by that statement. lol

  34. Brian says

    I think there’s a research study that solidified the notion that high salt intake is detrimental to health where rats were given massive amounts of salt compared to their body weights and had negative outcomes. That would translate to incredible amounts of salt intake in humans to the point where it might be impossible to eat that much. I’m sure Chris will address this study if I remember it correctly.

    • j loomis says

      I work setting up events. Weddings, anniversarys, birthdays , ect. Not as a caterer, but delivery and set up of rented equipment. Heavey lifting, extreme sweating. I drink water , I drink Gatorade, and eat bananas all day long. I used to get bad cramping in all my body. Didn’t figure my healthy diet would need salt. I was wrong. This went on till I suspected it from a drop of sweat that landed or ran back into my mouth was extremely salty. Figured a lot of salt was leaving my body, so I dissolved some in water and drank it. Locking up of muscles and cramps went away. I still was drinking water and gatorade, with a salt shot here and there. This is probably the exception when osmosis cannot function without balance, and I ran out of on

      • Samantha says

        Interesting how advertising and paid corporate chemists are still able to influence people’s ideas that they have a good diet. By default if you use such a useless substance as a sports drink to re-hydrate, you do not have a healthy diet.
        What about all those important electrolytes? Yes, Gatorade does have them, but in unreliable amounts. Gatorade, which actually contains more than twice as much sodium than potassium, is an unlikely candidate for any beneficial electrolyte restoration.
        If you want some proper electrolytes in your body, buy a proper juice extractor and use celery, beetroot and carrots for starters.
        The reason your body might be cramping is the Gatorade itself, which until recently included the banned substance (in Europe and other countries) Brominated Vegetable Oil. This toxin would have been playing havoc with your electrolytes every day you drank fake health drinks.

      • Paul says

        Then you must have been sweating an amazing amount, because Gatorade contains 450 mg of sodium per liter, as well as five other electrolytes. Keep drinking it. If a slug of salt water picks you up, lack of Gatorade might kill you. I take it there is no coffee intake? Even a cup a day will have dehydrating effects.

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