The dietary salt conversation continues

Many have heard about the dangers of high salt consumption when it comes to heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and stomach cancer. But there is a new concern on the horizon, that concern being autoimmune disease.

As recently reported in the weekly science journal Nature, salt may be a trigger that leads to an autoimmune disease. This occurs when the immune response is exaggerated and the body attacks its own tissue.

The researchers found that when mouse cells were grown in a high-salt environment, the cells over produced another type of specialty cell that under normal conditions helps fight infection. When the body is under attack from bacteria, viruses, or other microbes, these special cells contribute to inflammation, a natural response to fight infection and kill the microbes. A fever, for example, is a type of inflammatory response to help kill bacteria.

But in the high-salt environment used in the study, the inflammatory response was magnified. And this increased immune activity can lead to autoimmune disease.

In a related study the researchers fed a high-salt diet to mice that were bred specifically to develop multiple sclerosis. These mice went on to develop a more severe form of the disease. Similar mice fed a diet lower in salt did not have the same response.

Of course, there are other factors besides salt that contribute to inflammation. The level of vitamin D in one’s diet, one’s own metabolism, various microbes, smoking, and environmental factors can all play a role. The findings of the studies published in Nature, although interesting, are have yet to be applied to humans. And whether the results apply to all autoimmune conditions or not is yet to be determined.

Lowering one’s salt intake is certainly a healthy goal, though, when the consumption of salt is higher than what one needs. Current recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration are that daily sodium intake should not be greater than 2300 milligrams

Based on information gathered from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, the top food groups that contribute 40% of the sodium in our diets are: breads, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches (including hamburgers), cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes, and snacks such as potato chips.

In the above survey sodium content was greater in foods that were purchased outside the home, whether from stores or restaurants, when compared to foods prepared at home and salted to taste.

To decrease salt intake, become a label reader. Look for the term sodium on the Nutrition Facts label. And try the online salt calculator developed by University of Toronto professor JoAnne Arcand with researchers from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. This may be a real eye-opener for readers.

 

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