What is a Salt?
When thinking about the roles of salt in the human body, it is important to recognize what a ‘salt’ actually is and how salts are part of biological function. A salt is defined in chemistry as a compound that has an ionic bond (bond based on charges) that bring together a metal and a nonmetal. It is also important to know the behavior that salts undergo in an aqueous environment, like the human body.
An example of this is table salt, or NaCl (Sodium Chloride). It is compound formed from the binding of the metal Na (sodium) and the nonmetal Cl (chlorine) brought together by the attraction of their respective opposing charges (+&-). Once in an aqueous environment salts are pulled apart by water into their ionic form (ions are elements with a charge), NaCl for example, turns into Na+ and Cl- when dissolved in water.
Roles of Salts in the Body
Now that there is a better understanding of what a salt is, we must analyze the role it plays in the human body. Ions that come from salts are necessary for many physiological and cellular functions, specifically communication and water absorption.
Many cells in the body, like neurons and myocardiocytes (heart cells), depend on a difference in the concentration of ions of specific charge between the inner and outer cell environments. This is the basis for electrical communication in the body, how neurons send electrical signals and how heart cells know when to contract.
In terms of water absorption, these ions floating in the intra- and extra- cellular environments determine where water goes and are referred to as electrolytes. Having the right levels of electrolytes leads to proper hydration at a cellular level. Water follows solute concentration, so wherever there is a higher concentration of ions the water will follow. If there are too many solutes within the cells, it swells and can explode. If the concentration of solutes is higher outside the cell, then it can shrivel and die.
How does this Apply to Exercise?
When thinking of why athletes (and the rest of us) need salt to function, we must recognize how bodies sweat as a result of exercise. Sweat not only excretes water from pores to cool the body down, but also excretes decent levels of salts (or electrolytes or solutes). The athlete is loosing much more than just water and so those electrolytes lost must also be replaced.
If one simply drinks water with no salt concentration in it, one is more likely to be dehydrated from of solutes in the cellular environment to promote proper absorption of water. This is what many sport drinks like “Gatorade” are based upon, it not only replaces water lost from sweat but also the loss of solutes. Salt also aids in the proper functioning of the nervous system.
22 Benefits of Salt
Below is a list of the benefits of salt from Dr. Batmanghelidj’s book, “Water: Rx for a Healthier Pain-Free Life”:
- Salt is most effective in stabilizing irregular heartbeats and, Contrary to the misconception that it causes high blood pressure, it is actually essential for the regulation of blood pressure – in conjunction with water. Naturally the proportions are critical.
- Salt is vital to the extraction of excess acidity from the cells in the body, particularly the brain cells.
- Salt is vital for balancing the sugar levels in the blood; a needed element in diabetics.
- Salt is vital for the generation of hydroelectric energy in cells in the body. It is used for local power generation at the sites of energy need by the cells.
- Salt is vital to the nerve cells’ communication and information processing all the time that the brain cells work, from the moment of conception to death.
- Salt is vital for absorption of food particles through the intestinal tract.
- Salt is vital for the clearance of the lungs of mucus plugs and sticky phlegm, particularly in asthma and cystic fibrosis.
- Salt is vital for clearing up catarrh and congestion of the sinuses.
- Salt is a strong natural antihistamine.
- Salt is essential for the prevention of muscle cramps.
- Salt is vital to prevent excess saliva production to the point that it flows out of the mouth during sleep. Needing to constantly mop up excess saliva indicates salt shortage.
- Salt is absolutely vital to making the structure of bones firm. Osteoporosis, in a major way, is a result of salt and water shortage in the body.
- Salt is vital for sleep regulation. It is a natural hypnotic.
- Salt is a vitally needed element in the treatment of diabetics.
- Salt on the tongue will stop persistent dry coughs.
- Salt is vital for the prevention of gout and gouty arthritis.
- Salt is vital for maintaining sexuality and libido.
- Salt is vital for preventing varicose veins and spider veins on the legs and thighs.
- Salt is vital to the communication and information processing nerve cells the entire time that the brain cells work – from the moment of conception to death.
- Salt is vital for reducing a double chin. When the body is short of salt, it means the body really is short of water. The salivary glands sense the salt shortage and are obliged to produce more saliva to lubricate the act of chewing and swallowing and also to supply the stomach with water that it needs for breaking down foods. Circulation to the salivary glands increases and the blood vessels become “leaky” in order to supply the glands with water to manufacture saliva. The “leakiness” spills beyond the area of the glands themselves, causing increased bulk under the skin of the chin, the cheeks and into the neck.
- Sea salt contains about 80 mineral elements that the body needs. Some of these elements are needed in trace amounts. Unrefined sea salt is a better choice of salt than other types of salt on the market. Ordinary table salt that is bought in the super markets has been stripped of its companion elements and contains additive elements such as aluminum silicate to keep it powdery and porous. Aluminum is a very toxic element in our nervous system. It is implicated as one of the primary causes of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Twenty-seven percent of the body’s salt is in the bones. Osteoporosis results when the body needs more salt and takes it from the body. Bones are twenty-two percent water. Is it not obvious what happens to the bones when we’re deficient in salt or water or both.
Now, this doesn’t mean that one should load their food with lots of table salt, but what it does mean is that Salt is a necessary nutrient required by many functions of the body. Be aware of your salt intake because being too careful might actually be hurting you.