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Sodium Scope – Why the Sinful Stigma?

Sodium – for some reason is titled as one of the ‘sins’ of nutrition from some conversations we have had. To be honest, it’s baffling that we still think this way in this day and age, where information is abundant and yet we are still so misinformed on topics like this one here. So, with this, we are here to clear up the stigma of sodium.

Back to basics

Sodium, (Na) on a periodic table or better known to us relatively as ‘salt’. A very abundant element in nature and in our diet. Salt, as we know it is actually around 40% sodium and 60% chloride. If you were to have 100g of salt, around 40,000mg of that would be sodium for example. Sodium is both an acting mineral and electrolyte which is important to know for future reference as we get deeper into the need for sodium below. [1]

People add salt to their foods, we drink electrolyte drinks which contain sodium, we add it to our soups to bring the flavours through more. Rock salt is added to steak when it’s cooked to char up that outer crust. We obviously are big fans of the mineral, so why the stigma that we need to cut as much as possible from our diet?

What does sodium do for us humans?

Sodium is essential for fluid balance and cellular homeostasis. It was deemed responsible for the fluid matrix of the body by American physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon [2]. From here, decades upon decades of research has been conducted on the roles in which sodium is intimately intertwined in the body and found that it was actually involved in a plethora of physiological avenues:

  • Extracellular fluid balance. [3]
  • Blood volume and blood pressure. [3]
  • Intracellular fluid balance. [3]
  • Aid in hydration. [3]
  • Muscle and nerve function. [3]
  • Balance blood acidity. [3]
  • Membrane potential for cells – sodium and potassium exchange. [3]
  • Voltage gate regulation in neural processing. [3]

Why does sodium get such a bad name then?

Sodium gets a bad wrap because in most modern diets we do get too much, and like we always say… everything in moderation. The standard American diet heads in the upwards of up to 3.4g per day! [4] The maximum to recommended sits between 500mg-1500mg [4].

Secondly – along with moderate intake, it’s also about ratios and those ratios we are talking about are sodium and potassium. The two work together to maintain balance – potassium is more intracellular in function and a function called the sodium-potassium adenosine triphosphatase pump is responsible for regulating the fluctuation of pumping out sodium in exchange for potassium to move into the cells. Along with this, sodium regulation occurs in the kidneys for the most part. [5]

Where it goes wrong is when we have too much or too little!

Too little sodium is called hyponatremia – a disorder that affects neurological function, headaches, confusion, nausea, and feeling delirious. [5]

Too much is called Hypernatremia and these are more serious conditions manifesting tachypnea, poor sleep, restlessness, impaired thirst, loss of consciousness. [5]

What happens when we sweat?

Sweating is the main way in which we lose total sodium, those who train more need higher requirements of sodium, ensuring that focus is also placed on potassium too. The tricky part is, that we all sweat differently it can range anywhere between 200mg-2000mg per liter of sweat for novice to pro athletes. This is often why electrolyte drinks are provided for those who train with higher intensity or for long periods of time to top up these aspects. [6]

The key is to take into account your daily requirements as an individual and monitor it if you’re eating a healthy diet and training regularly ensuring you are meeting your demand requirements and topping up around training should be something that you are paying attention to.

If, however you are eating a diet high in this mineral and aren’t utilizing it through means of sweating and moderate exercise, then perhaps a review of your intake could mean a world of difference for your health and how you feel. [7]

Overall take home on the Sodium stigma?

Well, as we have said in the podcast – ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!’ okay, maybe that was just Jeff who said that, and our tally is growing. But we digress… there is merit in the warning of sodium and that too much of a good thing is not so great, however, the sodium scare mongering needs attention.

Inhibiting sodium or having too little is also dangerous and this is often seen first in symptoms of dehydration. So, all in all – if you’re sweating up a storm and exerting yourself be sure to keep in mind your levels and perhaps sip on something that has an electrolyte blend in it. Infrared was formulated for our athletes to have on the go and top up during their endurance type sessions without getting the green apple splatters towards the end of your session.

References:

  1. https://sodiumbreakup.heart.org/salt-vs-sodium#:~:text=By%20weight%2C%20table%20salt%20is,%25%20sodium%20and%2060%25%20chloride.
  2. Cannon WB. Organization for physiological homeostasis. Physiol Rev. 1929;9:399–431.
  3. Farquhar, W. B., Edwards, D. G., Jurkovitz, C. T., & Weintraub, W. S. (2015). Dietary sodium and health: more than just blood pressure. Journal of the American College of Cardiology65(10), 1042–1050. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2014.12.039
  4. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/9-out-of-10-americans-eat-too-much-sodium-infographic
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541123/#:~:text=Electrolytes%20are%20essential%20for%20basic,calcium%2C%20phosphate%2C%20and%20bicarbonates.
  6. https://www.precisionhydration.com/blogs/hydration_advice/sodium-for-athletes
  7. Bates, G. P., & Miller, V. S. (2008). Sweat rate and sodium loss during work in the heat. Journal of occupational medicine and toxicology (London, England)3, 4. https://doi.org/10.1186/1745-6673-3-4