Sodium chloride — better known to most as salt — is an integral part of the human diet. The body requires sodium chloride in order to maintain proper muscle function, to balance water and minerals within the body and to help nerves communicate properly. On the surface, it seems like salt plays a pretty important role in day-to-day life, but choosing the right kind of salt is critical to your overall health.
According to Harvard University, the human body only needs about 500 mg of sodium on a daily basis. Considering the risks of consuming highly-processed table salt, it is important to think about the source of your sodium.
The Hidden Risks of Table Salt
Table salt, which also is sometimes referred to as dietary salt, has become a household product that many Americans consider to be essential. Far too many people will just throw a few pinches of salt onto their food or into their pot during meal preparations to add flavor. It's used to preserve most of the processed food that is purchased at the grocery store. It is so prevalent, it seems nearly impossible to escape it.
According to an international study performed in 2018 by McMaster University that was published in The Lancet, the average person's consumption of table salt is not harmful unless it exceeds more than 5 grams of sodium per day. However, there are hidden risks associated with table salt that many people do not know about which should be considered.
Researchers at Incheon National University in South Korea recently revealed that microplastics were found in many brands of table salt, according to an article published in National Geographic. The high levels of pollution in the ocean have led to microscopic plastic components to become a part of the composition of salt. The researchers tested 39 different brands of salt, 36 of which had some levels of microplastics within them. The study showed that the amount of microplastics in the salt varied greatly based on the area of the world in which it was mined and produced.
Scientists are only just beginning to understand the prevalence of microplastics in salt, so the level of harm that these plastics can cause is unclear at this time. One can only imagine, though, that microplastics will have a negative impact on human health and development, particularly if their levels continue to rise in the products that are used on a daily basis.
Dietary Salt and Its Impact on Human Health
It is well-known that a person that enjoys a high sodium diet is at an increased risk for high blood pressure, or hypertension. Chronic high blood pressure is a serious condition that can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke, but it's not the only adverse consequence of a diet that includes large amounts of table salt.
One recent study found that salt intake can also have an adverse effect on other vital organs. Researchers at the University of Delaware authored the paper Dietary Sodium and Health: More Than Just Blood Pressure in 2015, and the article was quickly published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The paper noted that even people who are considered to be salt resistant and who are not likely to develop hypertension due to their sodium intake are still at risk of damaging their heart, brain and kidneys if they consume too much salt.
Traditionally, researchers have focused on renal sodium levels, or the amount of sodium present in the kidneys. However, recent research has revealed that the skin plays a more important role in the regulation of sodium levels than was once previously thought. According to the study Skin Sodium and Hypertension: A Paradigm Shift?, research on humans shows that a person's skin will store sodium and skin sodium levels can impact a person's risk of developing hypertension.
In addition to leaving you at an increased risk for developing chronic high blood pressure, high skin sodium levels will wreak havoc on the appearance of your skin as well. By consuming too much table salt, you may be inadvertently causing your skin to wrinkle prematurely as a result of dehydration.
Sea Salt: The Alternative to Table Salt
Recognizing the risks of processed table salt, many people are searching for an alternative that allows them to get the sodium they need and the flavor they crave without the unintended side effects. Sea salt is one of the best alternatives to table salt, because it is a natural product that does not undergo the same processing treatments as table salt.
The Benefits of Sea Salt
There are many advantages that are associated with sea salt, and recent research suggests that there are some health benefits to selecting sea salt rather than table salt. According to a study published in Food and Nutrition Research in 2017, natural sea salt may be able to minimize the risk of developing hypertension, which is associated with excessive sodium consumption. The researchers used male Dahl salt-sensitive rats for the study, and found that those who were fed natural sea salt on a regular basis versus refined or processed salt had lower blood pressure. Their findings suggest that a person who selects sea salt rather than refined dietary salt may have a lower chance of developing hypertension over time.
Sea salt also has additional minerals within it that table salt does not have. For example, sea salt has fluoride, potassium and magnesium. The trace amounts of minerals on sea salt will vary based on the type of sea salt that is purchased and where it was obtained.
Researchers are continuing to study the risks of consuming refined, dietary salt, so it's anticipated that there will be additional information about the harmful impact of salt on the human body. For now, it's best to stick to natural sea salt whenever possible.