Sodium is one of those minerals that has been wrongly villainized over the years.
Indeed, as with many other things in excess, sodium too can cause the untoward effects we know all too well, such as water retention and high blood pressure.
But does that mean that all sodium is bad?
Not at all. In fact, sodium has its place and several critical functions to play in our bodies.
So what's the secret to getting enough sodium without going overboard?
It's all about finding the right balance. Just as with any other nutrient, we need to make sure we're getting enough sodium to support our bodies' needs, but not so much that we're putting ourselves at risk for health problems.
In this blog post, we discuss the many functions of sodium to remind you that overly restrictive diets aren't a very good idea when it comes to this mineral.
Sodium Helps Maintain Fluid Balance
The human body is mostly water, so it's important to maintain a healthy fluid balance. This means making sure that the levels of water and salt in the body are kept at a steady state. Sodium plays an important role in this process by helping to regulate the amount of water in the body. It does this by working with a hormone called antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which helps to control how much water is excreted by the kidneys.
When ADH levels are high, the kidneys reabsorb more water and less is excreted. This helps to keep fluid levels balanced and prevents dehydration. Conversely, when ADH levels are low, the kidneys allow more water to be excreted, helping to get rid of any excess fluid. Therefore, sodium helps to maintain fluid balance by regulating the amount of water that is excreted by the kidneys.
Sodium Helps to Regulate Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Sodium is an essential electrolyte that helps to regulate blood pressure and heart rate. It does this by working in conjunction with potassium to keep water balanced in the body. When there is too much sodium in the body, it causes fluid retention, which in turn leads to high blood pressure.
On the other hand, when there is not enough sodium, it can cause low blood pressure and an irregular heart rate (usually elevated to try and compensate for reduced blood flow and volume). Therefore, it is important to consume the right amount of sodium to maintain a healthy balance. Too much or too little sodium can have serious consequences for your health, especially when it comes to the cardiovascular system.
Sodium Helps to Maintain Nerve Function
Sodium plays an important role in neuromuscular function. At the neuromuscular junction, sodium ions help to trigger the release of acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that plays a critical role in muscle contraction.
Without sufficient sodium, muscles would not be able to contract properly. In addition, sodium helps to maintain the electrical potential across cell membranes.
This is essential for nerve function because it allows electrical impulses to be transmitted from one cell to another. Without sodium, nerves would not be able to send signals effectively and muscle function would be impaired.
Sodium Helps to Prevent Cramps and Fatigue
This is closely related to the above-mentioned point. This is why a lack of sodium can lead to muscle cramps and fatigue. When sodium levels are low, nerve impulses are not transmitted as efficiently and muscles cannot contract as forcefully.
Of course, this is very bad for athletes who generally need their muscles to forcefully contract over the duration of a working set or even longer periods of time such as if running a race.
Plus, the dehydration that may be brought on by a lack of sodium can further contribute to muscle cramping and fatigue as it reduces the level of blood flow to the muscles.
Sodium Helps to Prevent Heat Stroke
Sodium helps to regulate body temperature by assisting in the sweating process. When the body gets too hot, the brain signals the sweat glands to release sweat onto the skin.
The evaporation of this sweat helps to cool the body down. However, sweating also causes the body to lose sodium.
In the event sodium levels are already depleted, sweating is impaired and the ability to cool down is reduced. This can lead to heat exhaustion or even heat stroke, both of which can be very dangerous.
Sodium Helps to Transport Nutrients Into Cells
Sodium is involved in the process of active transport, which is how nutrients are transported into cells. Active transport requires energy in the form of ATP, and it generally occurs against a concentration gradient.
This means that substances are transported from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration.
Sodium-dependent active transport is used to transport glucose, amino acids, and certain vitamins and minerals into cells. This process is essential for cell function and survival.
Thus, you could see how unnecessary sodium restriction could potentially have negative effects on health, especially when it comes to nutrient absorption.
Improves Physical Performance and Endurance
In recent years, sodium has been found to improve endurance and physical performance. Sodium supplementation (in addition to diet) can help to increase VO2 max or the maximum amount of oxygen that someone can consume during exercise. In addition, sodium has also been shown to decrease heart rate and increase power output.
As a result, sodium is becoming increasingly popular among athletes as a way to boost performance. While more research is needed to understand the exact mechanisms by which sodium improves physical performance, there is no doubt that it can be a valuable tool for athletes looking to get an edge on their competition.
Sodium Can Help Improve Mental Clarity and Concentration
Sodium is an essential mineral that helps with a variety of functions in the body, including mental focus and concentration. The human brain is composed mostly of water, and sodium helps to regulate the amount of water in the brain. Without enough sodium, the brain can become dehydrated, which can lead to symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and difficulty concentrating.
In addition, sodium helps to balance electrolytes in the body, which are needed for proper nerve function. When there is an imbalance of electrolytes, it can cause symptoms like dizziness, confusion, and even seizures. Therefore, maintaining a healthy level of sodium is essential for optimal brain function.
Sodium Helps to Maintain The Acid-base Balance In The Body
Most people are familiar with the role of sodium in regulating blood pressure, but did you know that sodium also plays an important role in acid-base balance? Acid-base balance is a measure of the pH of the body fluids and tissues and is crucial for maintaining health. The body tightly regulates acid-base balance within a very tight range.
The role of sodium in acid-base balance is to help maintain the correct pH level in the body fluids and tissues. Sodium does this by acting as a buffer, in the form of sodium bicarbonate.
A buffer is a substance that helps to maintain a solution at a constant pH. Sodium buffers work by binding to hydrogen ions (that are acidic in nature), which are released when acids interact with water. This prevents the hydrogen ions from altering the pH of the solution. In this way, sodium helps to keep the body's fluids and tissues within the correct pH range.
Other dietary interventions that can greatly help would be the consumption of a superfood powder such as Field of Greens, which can assist with the maintenance of an ideal pH.
Sodium Plays a Role in Blood Clotting
Sodium is an electrolyte that is essential for many bodily functions, including blood clotting. Without sodium, our blood would not be able to clot properly. In fact, one of the side effects of low sodium levels is increased bleeding and bruising. So, how does sodium help with blood clotting?
Sodium helps to keep our blood vessels healthy and functioning properly. It also helps to regulate the amount of water in our bodies. When we cut ourselves, the first step in forming a clot is the constriction of the blood vessels. This helps to limit blood loss. Sodium plays a key role in this process by helping the blood vessels to constrict.
Sodium also helps to regulate the level of water in our bodies. When we cut ourselves, there is a release of water into the area around the wound. This initial drop in water pressure causes platelets and proteins in the plasma to come together and start forming a clot. Sodium helps to regulate the level of water in our bodies so that there is enough water pressure for this process to occur.
There were also findings that indicated that states of hyponatremia (low sodium) lead to increased mortality rates in postoperative patients due to bleeding and thromboembolism.
Sodium is Necessary For Proper Bone and Tooth Development.
If you want to build strong bones and teeth you've got to eat your salt...said no one ever.
However, what if there was some truth in that absurd statement?
Sodium actually plays an important role in bone development by helping to regulate the amount of calcium in our bones.
Of course, calcium is essential for strong bones, but increasing your intake is not the best approach as too much calcium can lead to issues such as kidney stones.
Sodium, however, by regulating the amount of calcium in our bones, helps to ensure that our bones are strong but not brittle.
Not only that, but sodium also helps our bodies absorb vitamin D, which is another essential nutrient for healthy bones and calcium absorption itself.
How Much Sodium Should I Take Daily?
The American Heart Association recommends that you don't exceed 2300mg of sodium daily, although closer to 1500mg is optimal.
For many people, this number is far exceeded by the addition of processed foods, table salt, and restaurant meals.
Ideally, you should aim to get your sodium from natural sources such as fruits and vegetables rather than processed sources. This will help to ensure that you are getting the other essential nutrients that your body needs for optimal health.
It might be a difficult switch to make, but meeting your needs by using more herbs and natural spices can add flavors you never imagined possible and help you deal with the fear of bland meals.
Athletes may be able to get away with a slightly higher intake since substantially more can be lost in perspiration.
When To Take Sodium Supplements?
Most people will never truly need a sodium supplement as long as they have a varied diet.
The only time you might need to consider taking a supplement is if you are engaging in activities that lead to extreme sweating such as marathon running or working in a hot environment without access to fluids.
If you do need to take a sodium supplement, make sure that you are also getting adequate amounts of water to avoid dehydration.
Sodium supplements are also commonly prescribed to people who are on low-sodium diets for medical reasons. This is because a low-sodium diet can lead to deficiency symptoms such as fatigue, headache, and muscle cramps.
Supplements can help ensure that you know exactly how much sodium you are consuming per day, as compared to a guess about your intake (such as when adding salt to food).
Sodium might not be the knight in shining armor you were looking for, but it's an essential nutrient that plays a role in far too many processes than you would ever know.
Of course, in excess, there are negative repercussions that can occur, especially when coupled with other poor metabolic health habits.
But in general, as long as you are eating a healthy diet, you don't need to worry about consuming too much sodium. Everything in moderation, so don't try to avoid it completely.