If you’re thinking of reducing salt intake, this article will show you proven side effects of a low sodium or saltless diet.
Add too much to your food and the person seated next to you will probably warn that you’re increasing risk of hypertension or heart disease.
Everybody seems to believe that salt is bad and too much of it can ruin our health. In fact, most organizations recommend you limit salt intake to 2.5 grams a day.
However, recent studies show that salt isn’t as bad as previously thought. Emerging evidence actually shows that too little salt can increase risk of various diseases.
A review of four observational studies involving 133,118 people found that consuming 7 grams of sodium every day didn’t increase risk of heart attack or death among people without hypertension.
Surprisingly, those who ate less than 3 grams daily had a 26 percent higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and death, compared to people who ate 4 to 5 grams of salt daily.
It turns out that not eating enough salt actually poses more health risks than increasing salt intake.
Below are science-backed side effects of a saltless or low-salt diet.
Side effects of a saltless diet
1. High risk of heart failure
Low salt intake can make it hard for the heart to pump blood throughout the body and a result, cause heart failure.
Studies on people with heart failure show that reducing salt intake increases risk of death. People have 160 percent higher risk of death if they restrict salt intake.
This is alarming since most people with cardiovascular problems are advised to reduce salt intake.
2. Increased insulin resistance
Insulin resistance causes high blood sugar, which consequently increases risk of type 2 diabetes. Several studies show that low salt/ sodium intake can increase insulin resistance.
In fact, you don’t have reduce salt intake for a long period for insulin resistance to increase. This study found that participants’ insulin resistance increased after eating a low-salt diet for only 7 days.
Note that some studies show no such effect. But this is probably due to the differences in salt intake or duration of the studies.
3. Muscle cramps
You may have to increase your salt intake if you’ve been having muscle cramps. A saltless diet can make you lose control over muscle movement.
Salt or rather sodium is an essential electrolyte that helps control muscle contractions by triggering nerve impulses. And when sodium levels drop in the body, muscle twitches and cramps occur.
4. Increased hormones and lipids in the blood
According to research, people have increased levels cholesterol, triglycerides, and renin when they eat a low salt diet. This means that maintaining a low salt diet over a long period can increase risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
5. High risk of hyponatremia
A saltless diet can cause hyponatremia or low sodium in the blood. Common symptoms of hyponatremia include headaches, fatigue, low energy and so on. Note that this condition has severe effects such as seizures, coma, and death.
It’s important for older adults to eat enough salt since research shows that they have higher risk of hyponatremia.
It’s also worth noting that this condition is common among endurance athletes. During the 2002 Boston marathon, researchers found that 13 percent of the runners tested had hyponatremia. In other events, results show that this condition affected up to 29 percent of the participants.
6. Swelling of brain
One of the worst side effects of a saltless diet is cerebral edema or swelling of the brain.
When the brain swells in the skull, it can rupture blood vessels and cause bleeding in the brain. This can cause either death or permanent brain damage.
7. Doesn’t lower risk of heart disease
Reducing salt intake lowers blood pressure but remember that blood pressure is only a risk factor for diseases.
What you should really be concerned about is risk of heart disease. Various studies show that switching to low salt diet doesn’t lower risk of dying from strokes or heart failure.
This study found that eating less than 3 grams of salt a day increased risk of death from stroke and heart attack. There’s even evidence showing that the recommended daily salt intake increases risk of heart disease.
Note that there are conflicting studies on this topic so more studies need to be conducted.
8. Higher risk of death in people with diabetes
Did you know that people with diabetes have higher risk of strokes and heart attack? It’s also true that most diabetics are asked to reduce salt intake.
Unfortunately, cutting back on salt doesn’t seem to help. Research shows that reducing salt intake increases risk of death from diabetes.
It’s worth noting that this conclusion is based on observational studies and it’s possible these studies ignored other risk factors.
9. High risk of falls and fractures
Studies show that elders who eat low sodium diets have higher risk of falls and bone fractures. Hyponatremia is the main cause of falls.
Elders on low salt diets may not experience thirst and this can cause dehydration. Lack of enough fluids in the body can cause health issues that can increase risk of falls and fractures.
Salt isn’t as bad as you’ve been led to believe. In fact, eating too little of it can cause health problems. However, this doesn’t mean that you should go overboard. You still need to avoid processed foods since they’re loaded with sodium.
If you get most of your calories from plant-based foods, you won’t have to worry about excess salt. You may also want to switch to pure, unrefined salts like Himalayan salt, since they are rich in minerals.
Do you know other side effects of a saltless diet?