How does salt affect your heart?

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Salt consists of two essential and important ingredients: sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl). Sodium and chloride are both very important so-called electrolytes that help the body maintain a normal muscular and neuronal function. In spite of their importance, they can pose some profound health risks when consumption is not regulated. Sodium is especially not good in excessive amounts, as it can lead to some serious heart and kidney diseases when sodium-rich and salty food is consumed too much and too often. This is because sodium acts as an energy-creating electrolyte due to its positive charge. Muscle cells are, as aforementioned, dependent on sodium among other electrolytes for normal functioning. These cells create movement through potential energy that is produced as a result of the movement of electrolytes in and out of the cell. The cells can then use the obtained energy to create contractions and thereby movement. But what relation does sodium have with the heart?

The heart muscle consists of specialised muscle cells. These specialised cells are responsible for creating the contractions of the heart, which we characterise as beatings. The cardiomyocytes are, just like other normal muscle cells, dependent on electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and calcium, but an imbalance in the amounts of the different electrolytes can create serious heart problems.

High blood pressure or hypertension is medically defined as a blood pressure above 140/90 mmHg and moreover, it is characterised as one of the most serious health issues worldwide. Hypertension can lead to lethal cardio, vascular and kidney related diseases such as stroke, development and rupture of aneurysms and atherosclerosis. When a patient is diagnosed with hypertension, one of the first pieces of advice they receive from their doctor will be to reduce their salt intake.

Although to reduce salt intake is advised to patients with hypertension, it is advice that should be followed as a given, as it would reduce the likelihood of any such diagnosis of hypertension. Our diet already contains the normal amounts of sodium needed by our bodies, and that is why a further addition of sodium in the shape of salt, can lead to a high and unhealthy intake. Research has shown that a reduced intake of salt along with a diet rich in potassium decreases cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

In conclusion, sodium is indeed important for maintaining the normal functioning of our bodies, but a sodium-rich diet, along with a high and prolonged intake of salt, can lead to serious cardiovascular diseases. It is important to be aware of the health risks that come along with a salty diet, even before one is possibly diagnosed with high blood pressure.

by Adile Orhan


References:
Aaron, KJ. & Sanders, RW. – ”Role of dietary salt and potassium intake in cardiovascular health and disease: a review of the evidence”, Elsevier, Sep. 2013.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24001491
Boron et al. – “Medical Physiology, Section IV, The Cardiovascular System”, Elsevier, Updated Second Edition, 2012.

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