Once a lover, now a killer, what is it?

It is regarded as the cheapest thing in the world. It is an all-time additive in food. It is used world-wide. If it is missing in food, food is rejected. Unfortunately, it is a killer. What is it?

Sodium derived from salt (sodium chloride), which was once a darling has turned out to be a jilted lover, incapacitating, killing and killing mercilessly.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for Sodium intake per day is not more than 2.4g. The Food Standard Agency, UK (FSA) recommends 6g of salt per day.  6g of salt can sufficiently provide the required 2.4 of sodium.

Putting this in context, it is equivalent to taking one teaspoonful of salt (which weighs ~6g).

The above requirement sends strong signal that we possibly take excess salt than we need in our bodies. For example chips, barbeque (nyama choma), sausages, hams, popcorns and sauces generally have very high salt content.

Below are the deadly health problems associated with high salt intake.

1. High blood pressure or hypertension
How does high salt increase blood pressure?
High salt consumption causes an increase in salt content in the blood. This causes blood vessels to retain water in order to regulate the salt concentration. This extra amount of water causes an increase in blood content in the vessels leading to high pressure.

Why is high blood pressure very harmful to health?
High blood pressure can damage our hearts. Heart is used to pump blood of a certain quantity and pressure. When the blood volume increases, pressure also increases. The heart has to work extra hard to pump the increased volume of blood which is at an elevated pressure. The overworking leads to heart failure. Malfunctioning or heart failure is manifested as heart attack or stroke.

Over prolonged time, high blood pressure can damage or weaken the blood vessels. This may cause illness or eventual death if the arteries burst.

High blood pressure can also cause blood vessels to become narrow. This occurs because the walls of these vessels have to thicken and harden due to the hard work of handling increased blood volume at high pressure. Narrowed vessels leads to decreased blood flow to essential organs eventually affecting normal functioning of those organs.

2. Cancer
High salt intake can cause stomach cancer. High salt intake is thought to strip the the lining of the stomach exposing stomach to infection by a bacteria called Helicobactor pylori. Long term infection by Helicobacter pylori is considered a major contributor to stomach cancer.

3. Kidney damage or failure
High salt intake damages blood vessels which in turn contribute to kidney damage. Once the kidney is damaged, high blood pressure accelerates its damage leading to kidney failure.

4. Kidney stones
A kidney stone is a hard mass formed in the kidney from crystals in the urine. Urinary crystals can be caused by high levels of certain salts in the urine, an uneven balance of acid in the urine, or a lack of substances that inhibit crystal formation in the urine.

High salt in the system reduces the body’s ability to absorb calcium, leading to its loss through urine and a greater risk of developing kidney stones.

5. Osteoporosis
Salt intake has a direct relationship with the amount of calcium we excrete through urine. The more salt we eat, the more salt we excrete, causing our bodies to excrete more calcium together with salt.

Excretion of too much calcium may trigger the body to compensate the excreted calcium by using calcium from bones, weakening the bones.

6. Obesity
Eating foods high in salt lead to dehydration. Thirst is mainly relieved by high sugar or high calorie drinks such as soft drinks. These may contribute to weight gain.

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Joshua Arimi simplifies complex scientific facts on food to user friendly, understandable and applicable information. You can view his blog at www.arimifoods.com