How a salty diet literally ‘stresses you out’

Just the other day, I someone saying that they had a real “salt craving.” Salty snacks were their thing: chips, pretzels, salsa, popcorn.

At least it’s not a sugar craving — they said. Now that will kill you — they said!

Of course, too much salt in their diet could kill them too — but not only in the obvious way you’re probably thinking about…

Research is finding that a very salty diet could trigger stress levels that, in and of themselves, can wreak havoc on your health…

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Sodium spikes cortisol, the stress hormone

Major health organizations like the American Heart Association recommend that adults ingest no more than 2300mg of sodium per day. But the unfortunate truth is that most Americans today average about 3400mg of sodium per day.

We already know that this level of sodium intake can cause high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and vascular dementia.

But did you ever expect salt could make levels of your stress hormones skyrocket? By as much as 75 percent?

That’s exactly what Prof. Matthew Bailey and his team of eleven scientists found when they fed mice high-salt food to mimic the typical salt intake of humans (mice ordinarily have a low-salt diet).

You’re not a mouse, but based on previous research, sodium excretion correlates directly with glucocorticoid excretion (a classic endocrine response to stress) in humans and experimental animals.

Just how bad was it?

Not only did the resting levels of stress hormones increase, but their hormonal response to environmental stress was double that of mice who ate a normal diet.

Also, their salt intake increased the activity of genes that produce the proteins in the brain which control how the body responds to stress.

In other words, they reacted to the salty diet as if their bodies were under extreme stress, producing extreme amounts of stress hormones.

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What does this mean for us?

The takeaway here is pretty clear: too much salt places unnecessarily high levels of stress on our bodies. It’s just as bad for us as living with constant emotional stress.

Chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol can cause:

  • Weight gain
  • High blood sugar (which increases risk for type 2 diabetes)
  • High blood pressure
  • Weak bones
  • Muscle weakness in arms and thighs
  • Mood swings including depression, anxiety and irritability
  • Decrease in sex drive
  • Adrenal fatigue

So how do we reduce salt in our diet?

Avoid processed foods. Ultra-processed foods like packaged soups, chicken nuggets and soft drinks are full of sodium.

Read food labels. Even “good for you” foods like packaged bread and cheese contain a good deal of sodium.

Use fresh cuts of meat instead of processed. Fresh cuts of chicken, beef, or pork contain natural sodium, but things like bacon or sausage contain added sodium as well. If it can keep in the fridge for days, that’s a tip-off that the sodium content is too high.

Choose fresh fruit and vegetables. When buying frozen, choose “fresh frozen.” Read the ingredients, and avoid those with added seasoning or sauces, which are full of salt.

Use other seasonings. Cooking without salt is easy when you use fresh and natural herbs and spices to season your dishes.

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An excess of salty food seasons the body with stress, study says — Eureka Alert

High salt intake activates the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, amplifies the stress response, and alters tissue glucocorticoid exposure in mice — Cardiovascular research 

How Much Sodium Should You Have per Day? — Healthline

How much sodium should I eat per day? — American Heart Association

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.