Cardiovascular Diseases and the Salt Association

Cardiovascular Disorders have consistently plagued the modern world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently declared that cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the number one cause of death globally: more people die annually from CVDs than from any other cause. However, it should be noted that this group of diseases are highly influenced by behavioral risk factors – that is, an alteration of lifestyle may be the key to preventing CVDs.

The WHO highlights the following about the risk factors of CVDs: The effects of unhealthy diet and physical inactivity may show up in individuals as raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, raised blood lipids, and overweight and obesity.

An unhealthy diet most likely consists of, although not limited to, high salt intake. In fact, high amounts of salt (chemically, sodium chloride) in the diet have been linked to increased risk of acquiring cardiovascular diseases in various studies in the past. However, salt cannot altogether be eliminated from the diet as it is essential for normal bodily functions.

But how much salt do we truly need? It is said that humans can survive and function normally on 10 to 20 mEq/day, yet the average sodium intake for individuals in industrialized cultures eating processed foods usually ranges between 100 and 200 mEq/day. Thus, most people take about ten times the normal amount of sodium necessary for physiological balance, and this may easily contribute to cardiovascular diseases.

It is interesting to note that there exists the so-called salt appetite. Yes, salt intake is regulated by the body, although it must be stressed that animals and humans innately like salt and eat it whether or not they are salt-deficient. In cases of sodium deficiency, there is a behavioural drive to obtain salt; this is particularly important in clinical cases of Addison’s disease in which there is extreme sodium deficiency due to excessive loss of sodium in the urine. In normal cases, however, sodium deficiency is rare because sodium intake is almost always greater than the needed amount for homeostasis.

The salt appetite can also be triggered by a decrease in blood volume, which may occur during cases of blood loss, or a decrease in blood pressure. This gives us an insight that salt has a significant role to play in the body, and that its regulation involves complex reflexes.

In order for us to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, the WHO suggests choosing a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and avoiding foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt, and maintaining a healthy body weight. It should be stressed that heart disease and stroke can be prevented, and that easily translates to a reduction in deaths due to these diseases – another prime example that an ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure.

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