Do you have cravings, digestive issues, or a chronic health issue that is difficult to resolve? It could be that eating more salt is a simple solution to get you on the road to better health. Last week, I wrote When Salt Restriction Backfires, about how salt is vital for overcoming stress longterm. This article follows to give you tips for addressing your body's salt needs.
Generally speaking, I see suboptimal sodium levels in individuals with varying health complaints including:
- low blood sugar
- sugar cravings
- salt cravings
- adrenal dysregulation (fatigue or anxiety)
- compromised immune system (low immunity or auto-immunity, for example)
- chronic digestive issues
- thinning hair
- light-headedness and/or low blood pressure
- skin issues
- Candida or bacterial overgrowth
- brain fog
- cold extremities
- skin remains tented when pinched
- dry armpits and tongue
- thyroid issues
- low blood pressure
If you are interested in optimizing your health, I would suggest measuring sodium. It's an affordable test. In Madison, WI, you can obtain a sodium level in a comprehensive chemistry blood panel for $13 plus a $25 blood draw fee.
Salt cravings come from our brain which senses when sodium levels are suboptimal and the body needs more. Ignoring salt cravings can lead to increased sugar cravings as the body makes more insulin in an attempt to raise sodium levels in blood. Salt restriction can also lead to increased addiction to drugs like opioids (1).
How to assess a need for salt
Those with the most dire need for salt will typically have lower blood pressure. An ideal blood pressure would be close to 115/75. Someone with a lower blood pressure may need salt and will likely be light-headed when they go from kneeling to standing.
Urine pH can also indicate a need for salt. A first-morning urine pH value that is sub optimal (5.5 or less) or higher than optimal (6.5 or higher) may indicate internal acidity and a need for more salt due to it's alkalinizing benefits.
A reliable way to check a sodium level is with a comprehensive metabolic panel. A sodium level of 145 would be optimal (2). A person with a sub optimal level would typically benefit from an additional 1/2 tsp of raw salt daily. If the sodium level is much lower, then I would suggest a lot more raw salt. For a person with lower blood pressure and a sub optimal or lab low sodium level around 138 , I would suggest they slowly increase raw salt in their diet until the blood sodium level and blood pressure are optimal. For many, this may amount to something like 1 tsp additional raw salt multiple times daily! It is important to monitor blood pressure and sodium blood levels over time to track progress and make adjustments. Please do not self-diagnose with the information provided and discuss your salt intake with a trained professional.
It may sound like a lot of salt and it's fine to start with less than this and gradually work up. Remember that someone with a high salt requirement needs to work much harder at replacing salt than other people. Most of them have sub optimal sodium levels due to a traumatic event, stressful lifestyle or chronic immune stress and/or perhaps from eating a natural foods diet over time that restricted salt. It's always good to check your sodium blood levels perhaps a couple of times a year to know that you are keeping things in optimal range.
People that exercise more, or live in a warm climate will need to replace more salt than those in colder climates. If you live in Wisconsin, don't think you're off the hook. Those 90 degree days in the summer will double your sodium requirement and you may not realize you are dehydrated until you are tired, thirsty and craving salt. When exercising in cool temperatures (below 80 degrees), take 1/2 tsp raw salt before exercise and every hour thereafter that you are still exercising. In hot temperatures above 90 degrees, take 1-2 tsp salt before exercising and after hour thereafter. I find most people report more energy and endurance in the workout when taking salt this way. Combining the salt with lemon water is a great natural electrolyte drink for working out or doing outdoor labor (1).
People on a vegetable-based diet often need more added salt as they may not have enough natural sources of sodium if they minimize processed and/or animal foods (animal meats are naturally higher in sodium than other natural foods).
A person following a ketogenic (fat-based) diet will also likely benefit from extra amounts of raw sea salt. Ketones have a diuretic effect and so it is important to add a lot of salt and other minerals into the diet to compensate for this effect. A typical serving might be 1/2-1 tsp of salt in a glass of water (adding lemon or lime juice, too, if desired) multiple times daily, depending on how active the person is and their sodium level.
Those persons that experience low energy and brain fog will often find improvement with adding 1/2 tsp of salt to a small glass of water. This simple remedy will also help stabilize blood sugar in a person who tends to have low blood sugar or is prone to swings.
Salt will often bring relief to chronic constipation through supporting healthy secretions of stomach acid and bile flow (allowing you to get off the senna, aloe or whatever mild laxative has been used). A remedy for constipation is 1-2 tsp of salt in 2-3 cups warm water first thing in the morning. Added sea salt can also help the person with chronic loose stools as it helps to regulate the digestive secretions. Salt also helps feed good bacteria and conversely can work as an anti-biotic and anti-fungal to help rid the body of unwanted microbes.
Those with Candida overgrowth or other signs of gut dysbiosis may have chronically suboptimal sodium levels and benefit greatly from taking therapeutic levels of salt described above. They may need to gradually increase the salt, however, in order to avoid die-off symptoms.
You need salt but you just don't like it...
Perhaps you are thinking you need salt but you just don't like the taste of it in water. Adding lemon juice often helps with drinking salt water. Pickles, olives, and sauerkraut may also be used instead of sea salt. Soups and broths can absorb a lot of salt so you could try emphasizing those in your diet if you don't have another favorite meal that you like with a lot of salt added.
Salt and high blood pressure concerns
If someone is salt-sensitive and has hyper-tension (high blood pressure), then I would suggest a modest amount of raw salt in the diet (1/4-1/2 tsp daily) in addition to extra magnesium, potassium, and possibly calcium (see When Salt Restriction Backfires). The high level of other minerals in a raw salt like Baja Gold sea salt often results in better salt tolerance compared with table salt.
For those with high blood pressure that are salt sensitive, magnesium may be taken in a capsule form such as Ortho Molecular's Reacted Magnesium. Magnesium may also be taken in the form of a bath. I suggest epsom salts and magnesium chloride salts in combination with baking soda in a bath two times weekly.
Salt and kids, salt as a remedy
We frequently have dish of coarse sea salt available on the counter for our kids to reach out and add salt whenever they desire. A pinch of salt can help a sore throat or a tummy ache, and it's a healthy alternative to reaching for something sweet.
Choosing a salt
There are multiple sources of salts to choose from. I encourage people to buy those that are raw or minimally processed and high in mineral content.
People often ask if table salt is okay for them to use. Table salt is processed and lacks the benefits of raw sea salt. However, if table salt is the only salt available in a situation and you know you have a high requirement for salt, go ahead and use it! For use on a regular basis, my favorite salt is Baja Gold sea salt. It contains an impressive 90 trace elements and minerals, and 50,000 natural organic metabolites. It comes from Baja, Mexico sea water. When compared to the other top sea salts, it ranks significantly higher in magnesium and potassium (view comparison chart here).
Table salt, like Morton's, is stripped of many of it's natural elements, and contains added iodide. Many sea salts and most table salts have an anti-caking agent added which may include aluminum. I suggest avoiding salts that say "anti-caking agent" on the label. If you use sea salt instead of table salt and would like more natural iodine in the diet, I would suggest using natural kelp flakes (available at the health food store) in a salt shaker and adding that to foods (soups and salads) or increasing your intake of seafood which is an excellent source of natural iodine.
Another favorite salt is Celtic sea salt because it is minimally processed from a seawater source in France and very high in trace elements. Himalayan salt is more expensive than other salts and is mined by hand from rock sources in Pakistan. Himalayan salt may contain some radioactive elements due to the natural rock source but they are in extremely low quantities (in concentrations less than 0.0001 ppm). Redmond "Real Salt" is another popular salt mined from rocks in Utah. This form of natural salt does include natural iodine and additional trace minerals. Some critics argue that sea salt is better than rock salts because the historical record of their use is longer and thus we can assume they are safer. This makes sense to me and I prefer seas salts over rock salts but I think more research is needed to fully compare the various salts.
Since salt is critical to health and stress recovery, it makes sense to respond to salt cravings. If you are uncertain as to whether salt is beneficial for you, or wondering if you are eating the right amount of salt, I suggest testing with a comprehensive metabolic panel. I offer individual phone consultations for long-distance clients as well as office visits to help you with reviewing your health information and achieving your health goals.
1. DiNicolantonio, J. 2015. The Salt Fix.
2. Dr. Marcus Ettinger of Advanced Healing, DC, 2017, Personal communication.