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The Role of Salt in the Body: Understanding Its Benefits and Functions

The concept of certain aspects of our diet being healthy or not can be quite confusing for most people. is one such aspect that often bewilders people. I recall the first time I pondered over the role of salt in my dental practice.

While salt can have many benefits for the mouth, people often wonder if it is generally healthy. One of my favorite natural remedies for anyone with gum disease, infections, mouth sores or wounds is salt water rinses. Salt water rinses are known to promote healing and soothe tissue inflammation, making them especially great after teeth cleaning.

You can even use salt water rinses for daily maintenance. Salt water helps alkalize the mouth, which is great for balancing the pH of the mouth, and for the overall health of your oral microbiome. Although there is no question about whether salt is good for your dental hygiene, its effect on the rest of your body is another story.

Is salt really bad for your body?

Salt has played a critical role in ancestral food preparation for thousands of years. Yet, in the last few decades, salt has been made into somewhat of a villain as it's been associated with hypertension and heart disease.

The notion that a low salt diet is better for us began about 200 years ago and was founded on flawed science. Doctors knew then that our bodies relied on salt to maintain blood pressure balance. They believed that too consuming much salt contributed to high blood pressure and heart disease. The result were huge (unsuccessful) government campaigns to get people to eat less salt.

However, research is finding that this fundamental theory isn't as clear cut as we once thought. A meta-analysis of over 6,250 patients found there was no actual link between salt intake, high blood pressure and risk of heart disease. Like many of our dietary recommendations, our beliefs surrounding salt need to be re-examined.

Symptoms of salt deficiency and salt restriction

If you don't get enough salt, it can cause problems with your body and health. Here are a few signs of salt deficiency from salt restriction:

  • Reduced hydration, especially in athletes
  • Muscle cramps
  • Higher risk of heart attack
  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Cognitive decline in elderly
  • Irritability
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Why does your body need salt?

We used to think that our body's weren't very good at regulating salt levels. For example, it was believed that if you ate more salt, you'd become thirsty and drink more water, which would cause you to dilute the sodium levels in your body.

However, studies are finding that salt has many benefits in the body, including increasing body water conservation and making you less thirsty  – probably the opposite of what you might have guessed. This means that your body can prioritize its salt levels, which has been shown help positively manage metabolism.

What type of salt is healthiest?

There are four common types of salt.

  1. Table salt
  2. Sea salt
  3. Himalayan pink rock salt
  4. Celtic grey sea salt

It's important to differentiate between a natural salt and table salt. Table salt is mostly sodium chloride and heavily processed. Natural salts come in their complete, whole form. Examples of natural salts are sea salt and pink himalayan rock salt.

Always choose a natural salt, and try to avoid the processed table salt variety.

What is the best kind of salt?

  • Regular Natural sea salts contains a small amount of natural iodine, although not nearly as much as iodized table salt. It is typically much less refined than table salt and comes in both fine and coarse varieties. Sea salts contain many more beneficial minerals and tastes better to most people.
  • Pink Himalayan rock salt is rich in minerals, containing all 84 essential trace elements required by your body. Pink salt can assist in many bodily functions, such as reducing muscle cramps, promoting blood health and promoting healthy pH in your cells.
  • Celtic sea salt is an unrefined, unprocessed and sourced from clean coastal waters along the Guérande Region of Brittany, France. Containing unprocessed and naturally forming minerals, this grey Sea Salt is harvested by traditional Celtic methods using a paludier, a craftsman salt harvester.
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What is a good quality salt?

A good quality salt will have all of its additional elements present. Varieties like Himalayan salt or Celtic Sea Salt maintain all other ingredients to salt that pack health benefits you simply don't get from table salt. Celtic Sea Salt contains a higher mineral content than Himalayan and even contains trace amounts of iodine, naturally.

What is the best kind of salt to cook with?

Generally most salts will taste the same, unless they contain a large amount of trace minerals. If you do find a strange taste in your salt, try changing brands as there may be contamination.

5 Benefits of adding natural salt to your diet

With that in mind, here are five benefits of salt in your food.

1. Helps you stay hydrated

To stay better hydrated your body needs a delicate balance of sodium and potassium. This is because water in your body follows sodium, so if you have too much your body will retain water. Potassium works to balance this out, which is why sea salt is much better than sodium chloride or table salt. Sea salt like Celtic or pink Himalayan contains both sodium and potassium, which helps balance your levels naturally.

2. Promotes good vascular health

When it comes to sea salt specifically, it actually has protective effects against heart disease. Again, it's important to differentiate between sea salt and table salt, which is much less beneficial due it's nonexistent mineral profile. The findings on how sea salt helps heart disease markers directly contradict the years of recommendations against salt in diets – it's just important which type of salt you're using.


3. Balances electrolytes and prevents muscle cramping

Sea salt is an excellent source of electrolytes, which has been shown to prevent muscle cramping during exercise. Sea salt contains sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium, all of which you need for optimal health. These minerals must come from your diet because your body can't create them. Without sufficient electrolytes you can experience irregular heartbeat, fatigue, nausea, and even seizures.

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4. Supports a healthy nervous system

Sodium regulates water flow throughout your body, which is critical for a healthy nervous system. Additionally, the water of your nervous system requires salt for electrical conduction to send and receive nervous system signals. Just as with other functions of the body, your brain needs the right balance of sodium to other electrolytes, which is why sea salt is a much better option than table salt.


5. Improves sleep

When you read about salt and sleep, it initially appears there are mixed reports. But if you pay close attention, you'll realize that the advice against eating salt before bed is referring to table salt and processed foods, which can cause an unbalanced amount of sodium in the body. Sea salt is thought to improve sleep because it contains so many helpful electrolytes for regulating hormones.

When you swap your table salt for a natural salt you might find you have better sleep, are less thirsty, hungry, and more satisfied when you eat. It's also important to make sure you get enough salt anytime you exercise because your body is sweating it out. For anyone who participates in high intensity sports or competition, they make salt tablets for better rehydration.


Conclusion: Which Salt is Best For You?

Salt is one of those food items where you must specify which kind you're discussing to make the right decision. There's a big difference between table salt and sea salt. Make sure you swap out all that not-so-great-for-you table salt for Celtic Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan rock salt.

Share this article with a friend who still thinks salt is bad for them. They'll be happy to hear they can enjoy the right kind of salt on their food.

Now we want to hear from you. Please leave your questions in the comments below.


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