Salt and Your Heart; Do You Really Need to Lower Your Salt?

The latest fad of “heart healthy diet” made many people, who always had healthy diets, cut salt out of their diets–also many young children. The ones to whom the advertising campaign is aimed at, remain just as stubborn in eating whatever they want to eat and are not changing their habits. There is a question though: does salt intake directly connect to increased blood pressure? And if so how? And does reducing salt help or hurt our heart and brain or body in general. I expect you know my answer simply by how I formed the questions. I do not wish to attack those who believe low salt is heart healthy. Rather I would like to explain what heart health and diet in combination mean in terms of the human body and brain.

Since I am not a heart expert, I tell you a story of importance to guide you through my thought process. I provide my story, since I know that real well and it shocked my doctors quite a bit. Under no condition do I recommend that you drop everything and start eating salt or change your dietary habits; I merely would like to enlighten you, the reader, since if you are reading this, you have an opinion and curiosity already.

About 4 years ago I had a ton of migraines; I have had migraines for over 20 years. Otherwise I was very healthy in almost every way except for a late age asthma and the migraines. I was neither fat nor thin, had normal/low blood pressure of 110/70 to 117/78, borderline cholesterol. My family history on my mother’s side is full of hypertension and just about everyone died in or had at least one heart attack. So I thought my fate was sealed in spite of my healthy condition. But the migraines kept coming and I was referred to a migraine specialist who wanted to put me on a preventive medication, which would have been an off-label drug since it was initially created for depression. But I was not depressed plus I was told I would never be able to stop that drug in my life: it was a serotonin drug.

Being a scientist in the field of neuroscience, at that point I said “no thanks” and decided to look into this migraine business on my own–I had no salt in my mind at that time.

Of course if you look at research on migraines, nearly 100% starts with where the pain is rather than what may be the cause; perhaps because we have no easy access to see what is happening in the brain, unlike a broken arm. So my method was to look at the brain from within (in theory) based on molecular biology books I already had at home, to understand what a neuron’s requirements are for existing. Of course I learned all that in college but who pays attention? Right? We all know that the brain uses sugar for its energy but few people have asked how the neuron “opens it mouth” shall we say for simplicity to get those sugars for energy. What are the environmental requirements to the neuron to be able to energize itself? This is where I started.

To cut to the chase, I discovered a critical information that everyone in the field knows but it seems to go unnoticed or irrelevant by many. It is also complicated by the fact that not everyone has migraines given the same lack of good environment. So it is hard to say that my neurons cannot open their mouths because they don’t get enough salt at the same time as your neurons have no problem opening their mouths even though you don’t eat salt either. I now understand that migraine is genetic and a switch must turn on to activate a “migraine brain.” And the migraine brain is vastly different from the brain of a non-migraineur. The differences are greatly highlighted in my book that is sold everywhere; here I give you my publisher’s website to look inside or buy; it is available in paperback as well as digital.

Once it downed on me that the neurons in my head need to create their voltage in order to work and for that voltage they need salt, I had a life-changing moment. I hated salt all my life and I would not put it on or into nearly anything. I also drank water just as decoration and not specifically paying attention to why I did what I did. After this epiphany of salt need, I decided to give it a try. I told my doctor who nearly fainted because as you have all heard it “too much salt is bad for you.” He told me that my blood pressure will go up, it is not a good idea, etc. But if you ever had a migraine, you are ready eat rocks if people tell you they will work so I did not give a damn and started my salt increase even though I knew damned well that I have a genetic predisposition to heart problems and hypertension.

I started my morning with a pinch of salt every day with a glass of water and throughout the day I would ensure that I added extra salt to everything. For water drinking I purchased a water buzzing app on my cell phone that I set to buzz me every time I needed to drink water. Within the first months I was migraine free, by the second month migraine fog free, and after that completely migraine free.

I ate salt according to my migraine and even ate at the “very bad for your heart” M word junk food place because I knew it was high in salt. I also was told to check my blood pressure regularly and visited my doctor as well. For his and my biggest surprise, my blood pressure did not change at all; it is still around 110/70-117/78, yet on some days I eat 2-3 times the daily recommended salt while other days less.

So what is going on here? I was supposed to have an increased blood pressure–in fact I wanted to have a bit increased blood pressure since having low blood pressure can make one dizzy upon quick standing up and perhaps not so well nourished by blood through the 400 miles of blood vessels of the brain (Scientific American MIN, July/August 2014 “Out for Blood” by Elizabeth M. C. Hillman). But no matter how much salt I ate, my blood pressure did not change and my cholesterol actually dropped. I had not had as much as a cold for 3 years now, my skin got about 10 years younger, and I suddenly had a lot more energy. So where does it come from that too much salt (I mean eating 2-3 teaspoon of salt when 1 is the daily max is clearly too much) is bad for us?

I am not sure who first stated this “too much salt is bad for you” argument but it is sweeping the world in civilized countries like wildfire and the number of migraine cases are increasing exponentially as a result. So what is the connection and why did I not get hypertension in spite of the salt amount I ate?

The answer is very simple: in order for your brain (or heart or lung or any cell) to open their “mouths” to feed, they need to have salt in ionic form as sodium chloride, in which sodium is NA+ and chloride is Cl- where the +/- signs represent the polarity of the ion. Sodium is inside the cell and chloride outside and with the polarity differences they attract each other through the walls of the cell, thereby providing the opportunity to the cell walls to open their mouths (sodium-potassium pumps is the official word) to take in potassium and water and spit out used toxic water. Not having voltage meant cells could not open their pumps and not having enough salt meant also not having enough sodium in the cells. Sodium retains water and this is a key important property for the body. 

Since my migraines disappeared and many of my book-readers’ migraines are also gone, the question can now be addressed: how come my blood pressure did not go up (nor do my migraine book readers’ blood pressures since many contact me) and how come I am getting heart healthier with all this salt than I was without it before?! This is counter to all wisdom of today’s doctors, who will place people on sodium restricted diets rather than do the right thing: drink more water and eat more potassium if you have high blood pressure.

The reason why so many people have heart troubles as a result of too much salt is that they eat salt disproportionately to what their bodies need and they eat salt alone without enough water.  If you are the type of person who puts salt and pepper on every food you get before you even taste it, there is a good chance that you will end up with a heart problem, even if you do not eat junk food.

The key to eating salt and retain heart health is to eat exactly as much salt as what your body needs to be healthy. For each individual this level is different, and each day may be different for the same individual since the level of salt one needs is dependent on many external and internal (to the body) factors: exercise, temperature, stress, illness, etc. A couch potato in a 78F temperature room sitting all day will use up way less salt than the same person sitting with friends talking or exercising, however small exercise that is. Furthermore, salt alone is bad because salt will take water wherever it can find it and will hold onto it with its life! So it is not enough to just eat salt but you must drink a lot of water as well. If you eat as much salt as your body needs and you drink as much water also as your body needs (over 70% of our body is made of this salty water), your blood pressure will not change for the worst but in fact for the better if at all. The additional benefits: lower cholesterol, younger skin, less time on the toilet since salt retains water, so you don’t have to run every time you drink water, much more energy, and stronger immune system to fight simple illnesses like a cold.

Collective benefits suggest that it is well worth taking salt in correct amount relative to the needs of each individual under serious consideration!

So is too much salt bad for you? It depends: if you drink water correspondingly with the amount of salt and potassium, no, there is no such as too much salt. If you only salt everything and finish your meal with a beer or wine, yep, too much salt will get you!

Comments are welcomed.

Angela

About Angela A Stanton, Ph.D.

Angela A Stanton, PhD, is a Neuroeconomist focusing on chronic pain, electrolyte homeostasis, and genetics. She lives in Southern California. Her current research is focused on migraine cause, prevention and treatment without the use of medicines. As a forever migraineur from childhood, her discovery was helped by experimenting on herself. She found the cause of migraine to be at the ionic level, associated with disruption of the electrolyte homeostasis, resulting from genetic variations of all voltage gated channels that modulate electrolytes and voltage in the brain, insulin and glucose transporters, and several other related variants, such as the MTHFR variants of the B vitamin methylation process and many others. Migraineurs are glucose sensitive and should avoid eating carbs as much as possible. As a result of the success of the first edition of her book and new research and findings after treating over 4000 migraineurs world wide, all ages and both genders, she is now finishing the 2nd edition. The 2nd edition is the “holy grail” of migraines, incorporating all there is to know and also hypotheses. It includes an academic research section with suggestions for further research. The book is full of citations to authenticate the statements she makes to be followed up by those interested and to spark further research interest. It is a "Complete Guide". Due out in the summer of 2017. Dr. Stanton received her BSc at UCLA in Mathematics, MBA at UCR, MS in Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, PhD in NeuroEconomics at Claremont Graduate University, and fMRI certification at Harvard University Medical School at the Martinos Center for Neuroimaging for experimenting with neurotransmitters on human volunteers. For relaxation Dr. Stanton paints and photographs. Follow her on Twitter at: @MigraineBook
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8 Responses to Salt and Your Heart; Do You Really Need to Lower Your Salt?

  1. Darlene Thomas says:

    I would do this in a heartbeat, BUT, I don’t think his doctors or wife would let me 😦 And he is so committed and happy with them , he probably would not do it for me. I’m glad to know that you agree with me that he does need salt but now I’m in a situation, as to what and how to best get him and his wife, and doctors to believe me! I’m gonna think on this and try to figure out the best way to help with this without them feeling uncomfortable about it or thinking im goofy:( my knowledge over the years , from my reading and researching and taking control of my life in that I’m more responsible with being my own best advocate somehow intimidates ir makes others ….question my kniwledge, if you know what I mean. Because I have no degrees and am not a dr. But I do know things they don’t!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree Darlene; you are definitely stuck and you really cannot do much. We just have to go sometimes with the flow even if we know it is wrong. It is a hard place to be.

      I would not ask his wife though… only his doctor. His wife knows little or nothing of what you know but the doctor maybe willing to entertain a trial and see if salt helps. I don’t know if they are local to you or not. If yes, you can request a doctor meeting and run some of the ideas by the doctor… if not, you must talk to his wife or have a doctor call you back but since he is an adult, you have no say in what happens to him unless you are listed on his power of attorney as one who can make health decisions for him. If he has such, go full force. If not, there is nothing you can do.

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      • Darlene Thomas says:

        They hydrated him all night and sent him home today, to go to his primary care doctor tomorrow or next day and his renal doctor too. He did look better and says he felt better this morning but still was sleepy. The doctor changed some of his meds but he won’t actually change them himself until and unless his primary doctor agrees to it. That’s what I would do as well. But I didn’t get a chance to see his doctor. He would probably foo foo anything input from me anyways! His primary care docyor and heart docyor are really hood, they’ve kept him around a lot longer through acwhole lot of bad stuff longer than any if us evervthoughy. Up until tjis dialysis hecwas runningbout of yime, ut really saved his life! But he is still seriously ill. I so much sppreviate your input and tsking the time yo respond to me, veventhougj I couldn’t do anytjingvwitj the info. I know he needs salt but at the ssme time it swells him up so much and then he can’t get rid if ut. When the doctor devidef to put this port in to do fialysis, he had gainef 50 pounfs and lookef like a diffetrnt humanbandvwas in the hospital very ill andvthey could not get rid of any fluifs at all!@ he wa dnt eating, ftinking, btalking or anytjing! After surgery for the port they hookef him up and he lost 40 pounds right then and a I forgot how many liters of fluid but it was unbelievable!! So…I pray he continues to at least do as well as he is…we know he us going to be in and out if the hospital with dehydrstion off and on. …I will somehow, soon when he and I are aline talk to himn anout his problem with fluids and lackifvsalt. I will keep you posted how that goes;) His name is John, btw:)))I

        Liked by 1 person

  2. terrylc says:

    Have you noticed any difference between standard table salt, and seasalt that has more nutrients?

    Have you any guidelines on how much potassium to add per “x” amount of salt, keeping in mind of course that one’s mileage may vary?

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    • Sorry Terry, I just saw the comment needed approval–your future comments will not need approval unless you include a link.

      Table salt is sea salt only without metals or dead body “nutrients” whereas raw salt sold as sea salt is full of nutrients from left over organic bodies that created the salt the first place… I think that there are 4 factors of importance here here:

      1) salt is supposed to be white. If yours is not while, it has stuff other than salt in it… I think you are better off eating fresh fish than dead ones in your salt.
      2) colors like silver (Celtic salt) or pink, orange (Himalayan) etc., all represent minerals. The silver in Celtic is iron for example. If one looses blood on a regular basis like fertile women still do, eat that by all means. If it is for men or ladies of menopausal age, iron causes blood clot…
      3) do we really need nutrients in our salt? We eat several meals during the day; I think we are getting the nutrients we need there.
      4) natural sea salt is white so anything else has added stuff and is thus not pure but costs more and you don’t get pure stuff.

      I heard a lot about purification of salt.. the truth is that salt is only 2 elements: sodium and chloride. Everything else is stuff you don’t need, except iodine if you are not using iodized salt. I find that sea salt costs more for the word “sea” yet all salt is sea salt. I just use the cheapest standard salt–Morton–for cooling and for pinches as I eat I used larger crystals of the same. But for cooking I use it with iodine. For just eating for migraine no iodine.

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  3. Darlene Thomas says:

    Dr. ANGELA..MY OLDER brother has cardmyopathy…it dtarted in 1998. The foctors to this dsy ssy they fo not know why or what causef it. He had been in severe heart failure now for 3-4 years. In and out of the hos pital every month or so, sometimes every week. He was in 2 weeks ago and admitted again tonight. 2 weeks ago they said his potassium was too high…tonight they think he may be dehydrated. But all his labs are fine they said. His BP is low, usually always is, tonight it was 73over 42 when I first got there, couldn’t stay awake, very week. No medicine changes, nothing did he do or take any different to cause sleepiness. He is on dialysis at home, has a port in his stomach, he does it now 4 times a day. That started in Feb. 2 weeks ago he started using a machine to do dialysis during the night while he sleeps. He has to ration salt, fluids and certain foods because his heart cannot pump off the fluid. That’s why he’s on dialysis. Hes very ill. They say he’s too bad to do a heart transplant and kidneys damaged. I’m so worried about him. Tonight when I got to the hospital I told my sister in law that I thought. He might be in need of sodium to raise his BP and maybe his rain needed it or better, maybe salt, as he craves salty foods. But he cannot have any because he retains it all and its so hard to get it off even with dialysis. He has a lot of nausea and vomits all the time when he eats! Even if he eats very small portions. Well after the doctor came in he had them give my brother some sodium chloride by IV. To raise his BP. They’ve admitted him but tomorrow maybe his own doctor will come see him. Oh, he falls a lot, weak, dizxy. So they are doing CT scan because he fell and hit his head on Wed.!!! Omg!! Ots awful. Now the readon why I’m telling you all of this. I THINK MAYBE HIS BRAIN NEEDS SALT. What say you? But he can’t have any…..any ideas at all? I would appreciate any for myself to know even if his doctors don’t know what else to do for him. It may just be hus time…my mother died ftom congestive heart fsilure as did her sister and my grandmother! Just wondering about what exactly role sslt/ sodium plays in thus…I mesn I know his sodium, potassium, magnessium etc. All are important roles here! Certsinly a balancing act when you are in heart fsilure and kidney failure. And he has thyroid problems and type 2 diabetes AND fibromyalgia, they’ve said!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am very sad to hear what has happened to your brother Darlene. I agree that his brain needs salt. The problem he is facing is that his kidneys are not working and dialysis makes it harder to drop toxins (like salted water with toxic water) out of the body. But I think that he is dehydrated because without salt he cannot retain water–having too much potassium shows that he is not balanced at all. Giving IV electrolyte or saline is not that great since it blows one up–the salt needs to be broken down into sodium and chloride to be useful and the blood cannot do that. So while he is getting “hydrated” in terms of his blood, it does not actually activate the brain as much as if he took a couple of salt crystals at the time under his tongue and let it melt into his blood stream that way since his saliva partially digests and the salt gets to the brain quicker and in ionic form. He may not need much since he is on dialysis so I would be very careful how he is taking the salt. Hid blood pressure is emergency low but cannot increase it with electrolyte much because then his kidneys suffer from the extra water. It seems he needs to get some salt crystals–very little, perhaps get the sea salt large crystals and just put one under his tongue and wait for 20 minutes or so and see how he reacts. He has too many things going on and one can affect the other negatively so you need to do everything really careful. He will not vomit 1 salt crystal out.

      I am assuming he has the heart monitor on at all times so stay with him if you can for about an hour. Give him one crystal under the tongue and watch what happens–one will neither hurt nor help much but he may feel a bit better. If he does, put one more under his tongue after the 20 minutes and watch and after 20 minutes passed again, put in a 3rd. This is a very good start (and a good dose though small) for someone who has not been getting salt. Since he is getting IV I would not worry about water for now, only salt. And with his heart condition you do not want to have his heart suddenly run up in blood pressure too fast because that will harm him. See if you are permitted to do this in the hospital–you don;t actually need permission but I recommend you tell the doctor what you do so they are aware of the possibility of changes and watch. If he responds well to salt, they may increase his salt in the hospital so they need to know.

      I wish you and him all the best of luck and I hope it is possible to improve him!

      Hugs,
      Angela

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