Salt can save your life

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Human blood and body tissue contain 9 grams of salt per liter. This salt plays an essential role in many natural processes, not only in humans but in all life forms on earth.

Nevertheless, salt has a bad reputation because it determines the osmotic pressure of your blood and other body fluids. And because high blood pressure is bad for your arteries and because it supposedly is a warning signal for cardio-vascular diseases and other health problems, physicians advise to consume less salt when the blood pressure is high. Also governments and health organizations try to convince the food industry to use less salt in their products.

But does it help, all these worries about salt? Apparently not, because the average per capita salt consumption in the world has stabilised during the past 25 years, while the food related diseases are increasing at an alarming rate.

Also the international statistics for per capita salt consumption do not correspond with the statistics for health. For instance, the salt consumption in Japan is almost 40 percent higher than in the USA, but obesity and cardiovascular diseases are much less of a problem there.

There is a direct link between salt and blood pressure, but such a link between salt and health does not exist. So something else is going on, and the question should be: why does your body decide to retain extra salt? And why does this happen in affluent societies? These questions are important, because the human body has a wonderful system that regulates the salt balance, the moisture balance and the blood pressure, which all fluctuate constantly, depending on many internal and external circumstances and influences.

Some salt and moisture are lost with sweat through the skin, much moisture is also exhaled by the lungs, but most of the salt and the remaining excess moisture are filtered from the blood by the kidneys and excreted in the urine. This process is regulated by sensors in the kidneys and the brain. So what tells the kidneys to retain salt? For the answer, it is necessary to understand the unique properties of salt.

The chemical formula of salt is NaCl, so one molecule is composed one atom of sodium and one atom of chlorine. It is one of the most occurring minerals, also because it is present in all oceans in a concentration of + 30 grams per liter. NaCl dissolves equally well in cold as in hot water, a unique property that is probably important for the dispersion of life on earth.

In water the NaCl molecule splits into two electrically charged ions, the Na+ kation and the Cl- anion, which increases the electrical conductivity of the aqueous solution. This explains why salt plays an important role in electrical processes in the body, like the transfer of signals between nerve cells and between the cells of the brain. Moreover, the sodium and chlorine ions are small and agile, so they easily pass through cell membranes to equalize their concentration.

But the most important function of salt in human health, is its capacity to keep other chemicals and compounds in solution in all body fluids. The human body cannot handle solid materials, so everything that we consume has to be finely divided and dissolved first. This happens in the mouth, the stomach and the intestines, after which the food can be absorbed by the blood and other body fluids.

And because all compunds of sodium and chlorine are excellently soluble — a basic rule in chemistry — this function of the sodium and chlorine ions is essential to prevent deposition of less soluble materials in cells and arteries. This is especially important in affluent societies where people eat much more than their bodies need.

And the danger of deposition is greatest with proteins, because carbo-hydrates can be handled and stored in large quantities by the body (as glucose or transformed into body fat). Also fats can be stored rather easily and in large quantities in the body, after they are very finely divided and emulsified in the intestines.

The problem is that the average western consumer eats two to three times the quantity of proteins that his or her body needs, which should be no more than 40-50 grams per day. This becomes clear in a comparison of the average per capita daily intake of nutrients in the USA and Ethiopia (source


Country Calories/day Carbohydrates/day   Fats/day Proteins/day
USA      3770       460 gram   160 gram   113 gram
Ethiopia      1950       385 gram     22 gram      54 gram


Ethiopia is chosen deliberately here, because the consumption habits there are moderate and healthy, due to the dietary rules of the Ethiopan Coptic Church. But similar dietary patterns are common in all cultures where the population lives in a sustainable balance with nature. In such cultures the typical western ‘prosperity diseases’ are unknown.

A daily excess of proteins is a health hazard, because the body cannot store proteins (like it does with carbs and fats), so that daily excess has to be broken down and mineralized (‘burned’) immediately. This is a complicated process that results in many waste products like phosphates, sulfates and compounds of nitrogen, that have to be kept in solution till they can be excreted.

And especially here the Na+ and Cl- ions are essential if the daily consumption of pure water is low, as is unfortunately the case in most western countries. Western consumers prefer to drink diluted foodstuffs like milk, sodas, coffee, beer and wine, instead of simple clean water, a habit that makes things much more difficult for the metabolic system.

So a high blood pressure is a warning sign that your body is taking measures to prevent damage to cells, arteries and brain. And your first action should be to change your diet to less proteins, less fats and much, much more water. But only reducing your intake of salt will make matters worse, because you deny your body its most effective means to save your life.