Most Americans have been warned about the adverse health effects of salt in the diet. It is ingrained in many of us that salt should be avoided whenever possible. If we look at where this urban myth came from, we find that the salt stigma originated from a report released in 1977. Under Senator George McGovern, the government sponsored research that aimed to set dietary goals for Americans. Although one of the researchers, Nick Mottern, had no scientific background or experience, he was tasked with setting nutritional guidelines for the average American.
Not much research existed about the health effects of salt when the government study came out. The research conducted under Senator McGovern was one of the first investigations of sodium, and it was greatly flawed: researchers cherrypicked results and used small and homogenous sample populations. The report that came out recommended a low-sodium diet to avoid high blood pressure, because according to their skewed results, their subjects experienced hypertension when consuming higher amounts of salt (sodium is 40% of salt, and all nutritional labels only lists sodium). To date, this research has been the most influential about nutrition and salt intake, influencing medical education and all Americans’ view on diet—even though numerous, more accurate, studies have debunked these guidelines since then.
Rigorous studies showed that when salt consumption is reduced, blood pressure is just as likely to rise (~15%) as it is to decline (~18%). The other 70% of subjects had no change in their blood pressure when salt was reduced in their diets (1). Moreover, most recent research shows that significant reduction in dietary salt increased death events from cardiovascular disease, the very thing these regulations hoped to prevent (2).
In addition to causing cardiovascular death, reduced dietary salt leads to volume depletion of blood (hypovolemia). The body responds to this by activating more salt-retaining hormones, like angiotensin-II, aldosterone, and renin, which stiffen the arteries. Higher amounts of these hormones can also cause insulin resistance, increasing the risk for type 2 diabetes (3). Many Americans take medicines to block these harmful hormones because they can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and deaths, yet the current dietary sodium recommendations increase these hormones.
On a low-salt diet, the body also produces more adrenaline and noradrenaline, increasing heart rate and thereby the probability of a stroke or heart attack. Further, having higher adrenaline levels is a migraine trigger, so skipping salt will intensify the damage (4). Many migraineurs already have elevated adrenaline levels to begin with and a more sensitized and faster response to any steroid hormones, causing anxiety (5).
Reduced salt in the body can also increase vascular resistance, which is the resistance that must be overcome to move blood throughout the body for blood flow (6). This occurs because, as mentioned earlier, reduced salt decreases blood volume. In an effort to maintain normal blood volume, the body constricts circulation to get the same flow with less blood, increasing blood pressure.
For those with high blood pressure, restricting salt will increase blood viscosity and platelet count, potentially dangerous consequences for stroke and heart attack (7,8).
Insulin, a fat-storing hormone, can also increase on a reduced-salt diet (9). In other words, low dietary salt intake increases your chances of becoming sick with insulin resistance, and later as that progresses to type 2 diabetes, of becoming obese.
Looking at all the risks of a low-sodium diet, there is no reason to seek out reduced dietary sodium levels–especially considering that low sodium’s only touted solution to reduce blood pressure has been disproven.
And, equally significant, sodium is a key component of electrolytes that the body needs for proper hydration. The body needs salt in order to absorb water and to carry glucose to cells, so that cells can receive nutrients and get rid of toxins from the body. Salt is extremely important for daily activities, sports, and preventing certain health conditions from developing. Hydration is paramount to reducing and preventing migraines, so especially migraineurs should increase their dietary salt. This is why Health by Principle advocates #YesOnSodium.
To promote the right ratio of sodium in the body for cell hydration, what we call Electrolyte Homeostasis, try our electrolyte supplement. It contains the right proportions of sodium, potassium, and iodine for cell exchange and proper hydration.
1. Overlack, A., et al., Divergent hemodynamic and hormonal responses to varying salt intake in normotensive subjects. Hypertension, 1993. 22(3): p. 331-338.
2. Mente, A., et al., Associations of urinary sodium excretion with cardiovascular events in individuals with and without hypertension: a pooled analysis of data from four studies. The Lancet, 2016. 388(10043): p. 465-475.
3. Garg, R., et al., Low-salt diet increases insulin resistance in healthy subjects. Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental, July 2011. 60(7): p. 965-8.
4. Stanton, A.A. Fighting the Migraine Epidemic: How to Treat and Prevent Migraines without Medicines, an Insider’s View (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2014), 13.
5. Stanton, A.A., Migraine Cause and Treatment. Mental Health in Family Medicine, 2015. 11(2): p. 69-72.
6. Omvik, P., Lund-Johansen P., Hemodynamic effects at rest and during exercise of long-term sodium restriction in mild essential hypertension. Acta medica Scandinavica. Supplementum, 1986. (714): p. 71-4.
7. Ikeda, T., et al., Effect of sodium restriction on platelet function in patients with essential hypertension. Japanese Heart Journal, May 1989. 30(3): p. 365-73.
8. Egan, B.M., et al., Neurohumoral and metabolic effects of short-term dietary NaCl restriction in men. Relationship to salt-sensitivity status. American Journal of Hypertension, May 1991. 4(5): p. 416-421.
9. Patel, S.M., et al., Dietary sodium reduction does not affect circulating glucose concentrations in fasting children or adults: findings from a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Nutrition, March 2015. 145(3): p. 505-13.