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The Skinny on Salt

Everyone is so afraid of salt. And I get it - so was I. We were taught that salt causes swelling and high blood pressure. But is this actually the case?

A quick history lesson.

"In the 1950s, when the pharmaceutical industry was beginning to promote some new chemicals as diuretics to replace the traditional mercury compounds, Walter Kempner’s low-salt “rice diet” began to be discussed in the medical journals and other media. The diuretics were offered for treating high blood pressure, pulmonary edema, heart failure, “idiopathic edema,” orthostatic edema and obesity, and other forms of water retention, including pregnancy, and since they functioned by causing sodium to be excreted in the urine, their sale was accompanied by advising the patients to reduce their salt intake to make the diuretic more effective. It was clear to some physicians (and to most veterinarians) that salt restriction, especially combined with salt-losing diuresis, was very harmful during pregnancy, but that combination became standard medical practice for many years, damaging millions of babies. Despite numerous publications showing that diuretics could cause the edematous problems that they were supposed to remedy, they have been one of the most profitable types of drug. Dietary salt restriction has become a cultural cliché, largely as a consequence of the belief that sodium causes edema and hypertension."

Say, What?

Let's recap that: Walter Kempner created a low-salt diet to be eaten in conjunction with diuretics to make them more effective. Multiple physicians agreed that low salt + salt losing diuretic meds are harmful to the body. Even so, that combo became standard and millions of babies suffered. Furthermore, despite publications showing diuretics actually cause the problems they were supposed to fix, they are one of the most profitable drugs. And dietary salt restriction is still the cultural cliche on the belief that salt causes swelling and high BP. 

Are you as confused as I am?

"Tom Brewer, an obstetrician who devoted his career to educating the public about the importance of prenatal nutrition, emphasizing adequate protein (especially milk), calories, and salt, was largely responsible for the gradual abandonment of the low-salt plus diuretics treatment for pregnant women. He explained that sodium, in association with serum albumin, is essential for maintaining blood volume. Without adequate sodium, the serum albumin is unable to keep water from leaving the blood and entering the tissues. The tissues swell as the volume of blood is reduced. During pregnancy, the reduced blood volume doesn’t adequately nourish and oxygenate the growing fetus."

Thank you, Dr. Brewer!

So here's the skinny on sodium (literally, the skinny because salt doesn't cause swelling).  Sodium increases metabolic rate, improves immunity, alleviates inflammation, and works to maintain a healthy blood pressure and volume. Furthermore, women sometimes crave salt and sugar around ovulation and premenstrually - when estrogen levels are high (similar to food cravings during pregnancy).

Swelling while PMS-ing is a common issue, and many OB's still recommend avoiding salt and taking a diuretic. However, increasing salt during PMS according to cravings will actually prevent swelling. 

The rule of thumb - if you're craving salt, you need salt. Listen to your body. 

The lesson - Don’t be afraid to (sea) salt your food. Also, adding a pinch of white sea salt or Morton’s pickling salt to water will add back in the minerals needed for effective osmotic transfer (getting water into the cell), and is an easy way to ensure your body is getting the proper amount of sodium.

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