What Is Sodium?
Sodium is a metallic element that occurs in nature only in the combined state, i.e., as sodium chloride— salt. Salt is a universal taste, one of the four that your tongue’s taste buds recognize instantly. Salt is necessary to the metabolism of both humans and animals: animals will walk for miles to find the salt to counterbalance all the potassium they eat in the form of vegetation. But we humans have only to look as far as the dinner table to find more-than-ample salt to meet our needs.
How Does Sodium Work?
Sodium accounts for only about 2 percent of your body’s entire mineral makeup. Yet that 2 percent of the mineral content is very important: sodium is present mainly in the fluid that surrounds each and every cell of your body. With potassium, it is responsible for speeding nutrients into your cells, and speeding waste products out; thus, it is a vital ingredient in the metabolic processes of every cell. Your cells work hard to maintain exactly the proper balance of sodium and potassium, for only with sodium outside the cellular walls, and potassium inside, can the unique pumping action that quickens these life-sustaining energy processes work.
Our bodies need salt, which is freely available in a natural form in nearly every food we eat. Salt is necessary for a variety of important functions. With potassium, it forms a pump that speeds nutrients into and waste products out of your cells. At the same time, it regulates the cellular fluid pressure, which affects your blood pressure. With a number of other nutrients, it also controls the varying degrees of pH balance throughout the different parts of your body. Sodium also keeps particles of calcium suspended in your bloodstream, ready for any of your tissues needs.
Sodium is vital to the ability of your nerves to transmit impulses to your muscles, and to your muscles’ ability to contract. Within your metabolic system, sodium helps pump glucose through the walls of the intestine into your bloodstream. In your cells, sodium is part of the sodium /potassium mechanism. In the fluids of your body, sodium works with chloride to transport nutrients between cells. In the digestive system, sodium helps produce hydrochloric acid, which in turn helps you digest your foods.
Yes, we all need sodium, but most of us get too much. Too much sodium results in potassium deficiency and even more serious problems, such as stress, hypertension, muscular weakness and fatigue, liver damage, and pancreas disease. Of these, hypertension is the most dangerous and is in fact one of the leading killer diseases in our country today. One out of every ten Americans may be predisposed to high blood pressure, which is rearing its ugly head even in the lives of our children.
Very few of us need to worry about getting too little salt. Yet most of us do need to be concerned about getting too much. Your body needs only from 55 to 400 milligrams of sodium to perform its daily functions, yet many of us eat from 7,000 to 20,000 milligrams daily. That adds up to about thirty-five times the amount of salt we need!
Sodium maintains important partnerships with potassium, calcium, vitamin D, and pantothenic acid. Its antagonists include prolonged diarrhea and vomiting, strict vegan diets, profuse perspiration, prolonged or acute stress, pregnancy, and chronic illness. The symptoms of sodium deficiency— though much more rare— can be just as serious as the symptoms of sodium excess.
Be aware that if you eat a lot of refined and processed foods, your daily consumption of sodium is almost certainly too high. Foods contain sodium naturally, just as natural foods have their own distinctive and delicious tastes which do not need to be either masked or enhanced by the addition of salt. Switching off a diet of refined foods in favor of a more balanced diet of natural foods will mean not only an almost automatic reduction in your salt intake, it will also mean the awakening of your taste buds to the delightful flavors that nature has provided for our health and enjoyment.