Ah salt… The crack-cocaine of dinner parties. These health-conscious days, a raised eyebrow as you reach for the shaker is par for the “course”, given that too much salt can be detrimental to otherwise healthy bodies.
But what if we told you that too little salt can also be bad for you? Yup: Sodium is actually a mineral that’s fairly critical for a number of your bodily functions, including fluid balance, blood pressure management and the nervous system.
A condition called hyponatraemia results from a low level of sodium in the blood, and it’s caused by… you guessed it: Too little of this maligned condiment. In fact, head’s up Fit Fam: Hyponatraemia may be caused by drinking too much water, for example during strenuous exercise, without proper replacement of sodium, which could lead to a salt deficiency. Electrolyte drinks, on the other hand, replenish sodium stores.
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What Causes Low Sodium Levels?
A string of medical conditions can lead to low sodium levels in the body: kidney failure, congestive heart failure, adrenal insufficiency, hypothyroidism and cirrhosis of the liver. Anorexia and certain meds can also cause a sodium imbalance. But it can also result when sodium is lost during prolonged sweating and severe vomiting or diarrhoea.
For the majority of us, the only time this would be an issue is if you have a diet severely low on salt, or you’re doing some mega training accompanied by mega sweating. Drinking too much water during exercise may dilute the sodium content in your blood, and dehydration also causes your body to lose fluids and electrolytes, which may cause your sodium level to dip. So you need to get that balance right.
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So, What Should You Watch Out For?
In long-term (chronic) hyponatraemia, where the blood sodium levels drop gradually over time, symptoms can be very non-specific and can include: headache, confusion or altered mental state, seizures and decreased consciousness.
But the more subtle symptoms include: restlessness, muscle spasms or cramps, weakness, dizziness and tiredness – all of which can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
How Is Salt Deficiency Diagnosed?
The symptoms of hyponatraemia are not specific, so you’d need to pop in on your doc for a blood test to measure your sodium levels.
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And How Is It Treated?
Mild hyponatraemia may not require treatment other than adjustments in diet, lifestyle or meds. For severe cases, treatment often involves intravenous fluids and electrolytes.
And If You’re Feeling Daring…
Believe it or not, there are people out there who swear by downing pickle juice after a particularly heavy workout. This age-old remedy apparently works because pickle juice is made up mostly of water, vinegar and… salt. But, because there’s a bunch of conflicting evidence on its benefits out there, we suggest sticking to your regular electrolyte drink.