Slow Down the “Chipmunk Speed” and Read On About Why the ABSENCE of Salt May Be Hurting Your Health
The Dietary Diatribes
One can get dizzy from trying to decide how to fuel their body. Should we view a plate of broccoli as a “death bowl of damaging health lectins,” or happily proclaim the sulforaphane-containing immortality superpowers of this revered plant food.
Furthermore, if we decide that we REALLY DO want to eat the broccoli, what can we safely put on it?
No worries, snail secretions will be the upcoming nutrient infusion we’ve all been looking for that everyone agrees on!
Makes you wonder, “does anyone know what to eat anymore?!”
Many of my wonderful health seeking clients have expressed their utter confusion, frustration, and exhaustion from chasing the next “miracle” diet or nutrient, only to be bloated by empty promises. There isn’t much comfort in the fact that even some of America’s most distinguished nutrition geniuses are on a ping-pong balancing act with the best of us.
For the love of all the orthorexia (unhealthy preoccupation with eating perfectly healthy), will this insanity stop?!
Slowing Down Chipmunk Speed: The Supervillain Status of Salt Just Got a Little “Shakier”
Thankfully, sometimes tools are available to make it easier to shift through all the headlines and hype, and find what works best for us, as an individual.
One of my favorites is the infamous Apple podcast app.
I’m an admitted podcast junkie, and, it can get a little out of control trying to take in all the wonderful information. It seems others have the same issue.
“Chipmunk speed,” is an actual phenomenon of podcast nuts who listen to their episodes in high speed to plow through so many! I’m guilty.
Last week, I was dutifully digging my way through my unplayed episodes on my iPhone (in airplane mode). One podcast forced me to bid the Chipmunks, voices ado and reduce the speed to the speakers’ actual vocal tone.
As I was listening, many visions of my adored clients and athletic friends paraded through my mind. This was exciting and it hit my science nerve!
In case you haven’t guessed the topic, it was on the salvation of salt as an essential nutrient and how deficiency, not overload, was creating a wide array of clinical symptoms.
As with most subjects in nutrition, salt has been no exception to these polarizing viewpoints. Perhaps the September 2015 article, “Sugar, Not Salt, Is the Real Dietary Villain,” in Discover Magazine summarized it best:
Conventional wisdom: Sodium consumption causes high blood pressure and heart disease, so we should eat less salt.
Contrarian view: Added sugars are more to blame for high blood pressure and heart disease, so we should reduce them instead of sodium.
Although the focus of this podcast was on overtraining in high-level athletes (overtraining syndrome, OTS), this phenomenon may also occur in recreational athletes who push hard in training (overreaching, OR) and in those eating very low sodium diets.
In an abstract in Medical Hypothesis, the authors sought to explore the relationship between salt loss and overtraining symptoms using a self experiment. The authors reported that depletion in sodium did cause many of the common overtraining symptoms. Furthermore, they disappeared with sodium repletion, even in the absence of resting periods:
As experienced before, typical symptoms such as sleeping disorders, harassed feeling, high diuresis, thirst and increasing blood pressure developed within 2 weeks with the increased training loads and the usual low Na(+)-nutrition. This was before plasma sodium decreased below the physiological range. High Na(+)-substitution instead of a resting period enabled the recovery from OR symptoms within some days.
The authors felt this may be due to a stimulation and exhaustion of the nervous system. This is through activation of the body’s feedback mechanism for blood volume homeostasis, in which sodium is integral. This physiological mechanism has huge impacts on those who are lowering their sodium for overall health, and/or, to reduce blood pressure.
In fact, in this podcast, Dr. DiNicolanto referenced low sodium levels can cause symptoms ranging from heart arrhythmia, POTs, rebound high blood pressure, higher acidity, insulin resistance, and addiction!
- In a study on pulse waveform analysis of arterial compliance, sodium intake (as measured by excretion) was linked to more compliant large vessels and lower blood pressure. This meant that high sodium may make our vessels more flexible and less likely to be damaged by pressure fluctuations.
- A population study of the Kuna in Panama found varying levels of salt intake did not affect blood pressure. This led the authors to explore other potential interactions, in which age was one, along with the impact of other minerals, specific dietary patterns (high fiber, vegetarian), and the environment.
- In a meta-analysis on sodium restriction for four or more weeks, reduction in blood pressure was achieved, but at a price of activating the nervous system. This may mean that in the long-run, this strategy may not be ideal. For example, repletion of another nutrient may be an alternative. In another meta-analysis, it was higher potassium intake that was linked to lowered blood pressure and stroke risk. Furthermore, it was not associated with negative changes in the nervous system.
- One study with diabetics showed that the either side of the extreme ends of salt intake, high and low, were associated with higher mortality rates. This was even true with blood pressure being decreased in the low sodium group. Interestingly, there was an association found between insulin resistance with the implementation of a low salt diet after seven days in healthy subjects.
Dr. DiNicolanto also referenced bone health benefit with salt intake. I found several articles that report a complex relationship between calcium and sodium and bone remodeling and bone mass. The studies found that high sodium intake is associated with bone breakdown, with caveats. However, higher intake of calcium intake itself also increased calcium excretion. Therefore, it was concluded that in the absence of balanced electrolytes, and in the presence of calcium depletion, high salt intake may have a negative impact on bone health. (1,2,3)
It’s important to determine the difference of sodium and salt. There is the processed salt common in grocery stores, that can contain harmful additives and does not have all the minerals found in various versions of sea salt. Sea salt could potentially positively impact alkalinity and bone health with balanced electrolytes. Dr. DiNicolanto mentioned salt could also decrease oxalate stones; however, I was not able to find this to be conclusive in the literature.
For fellow podcast junkies, or just interested health consumers, I encourage you to listen to the full podcast, “High Salt Diets & Athletic Performance w/ Dr. James Dinicolantonio” on High Intensity Health Radio. You can also watch the YouTube version here. The show notes provide you with with a quick overview.
You can also read further about the controversy here.
What’s the bottom line?
Our bodies are run by the food we choose to eat daily and the nutrients we supply. As Mark Sisson states in his blog:
You could drop your salt intake to half a teaspoon and get a three or four point drop in your blood pressure. Of course, you might not enjoy your food anymore, your performance in the gym or on the trail would likely suffer, your stress hormones might be elevated, you might start feeling overtrained without doing any actual training, you could become insulin resistant, and you may have trouble clearing (the elevated) cortisol from your blood. But, hey: your blood pressure readings will likely improve by a few points! Or, you could keep your salt intake up around two teaspoons, give or take, simply by salting your food to taste, and avoid all that other stuff.
I say, eat real food. If you are confused and not getting the health benefits you wish to achieve from your diet, find a functional medicine or naturopathic doctor who can help you. They will be able to establish the right diet and supplemental support for you, as an individual, not just based on a theory.
Breathe…the Aroma Stress Release
All that information is enough to send anyone’s blood pressure through the roof!
When it comes to the salt wars, you can minimize your stress response, and help keep your blood pressure more balanced, by inhaling essential oils. Two of my favorite oils for heart health are ylang ylang oil and bergamot essential oil.
Make sure to read my database for safe use with the oils and proper applications here.
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)