Sodium is an important mineral whose main function is to serve as an electrolyte in the body. Electrolytes are minerals and compounds that ionize in water and therefore carry a charge when dissolved in different body fluids. You cannot live without sodium; that is the truth despite all sorts of hate speech against it. Also true is you cannot live comfortably and healthily if you have an excess of sodium. Let’s demystify this sodium issue further.
It is one of those minerals that come to you because of how abundant they are in food. Even in minerals, there are those needed in larger amounts (mg amounts while others are needed in (um amounts). Sodium is needed in large amounts and is one of the most abundant minerals in the body. It exists both as an element and as ions.
A great source of sodium is table salt. It consists of 40% sodium and 60% chloride ions. This is used in flavoring food and for preservation. This important source is however misused and often results in excessive intake of sodium. A high intake of salt is detrimental to your health and a low sodium diet is recommended and very preferable. The culprits of excess sodium are refined foods and snacks, fast foods and frozen foods; yeah, the “new fresh” isn’t as good for your health as purported to be.
Sodium has 2 very major uses in the body. These two are the most important of its functions and any deviation from normal puts you down with its very serious consequences.
- Conduction of nerve impulses
The sodium-potassium pump maintains an electrical gradient when the nerve is not stimulated. This also plays a role in the action potential generation and degeneration. These processes ensure that an impulse is set up when exposed to stimuli that the nerve reverts to its initial state in anticipation of another stimulus.
- Contraction and relaxation of muscles
Sodium helps preserve the normal irritability of muscles making them sensitive enough for impulses from the brain and from the surrounding. The sodium pumps are involved in muscle excitation. These alongside other ions have different impacts on muscle contraction. Calcium for example was observed to inhibit muscle contraction. Potassium and sodium on the other hand were both observed to promote motor nerve function and the response of muscles to the transmitted impulse.
- Osmotic pressure regulation and maintenance
Sodium is the major cation for extracellular fluid. The concentration of sodium ions in the extracellular fluid plays a major role in the regulation of body fluids. If in excess, it draws more fluid to itself. There are mechanisms to maintain the ions within optimum levels and they can then maintain an optimum amount of extracellular fluid.
Despite being the main cation in the regulation, it is also involved in the maintenance of the membrane potentials.
- Acid-base regulation in the body
Sodium is one of the ions involved in the electrolyte and acid-base regulation. The Na+ proton exchangers forming part of the renal regulation mechanisms are an integral part in this function. The bicarbonate is regulated in the blood by sodium, as are the phosphate ions. When sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3), comes into contact with a strong acid, such as HCl, carbonic acid(H2CO3), which is a weak acid, and NaCl are formed.
- Impacts the absorptive process of monosaccharides, amino acids, pyrimidines and bile salts.
Food molecules after being broken down during digestion still often require carrier proteins for transportation across the epithelial lining of the intestines. The transporter that carries glucose and galactose into the enterocyte is the sodium-dependent hexose transporter, known more formally as SGLUT-1. As the name indicates, this molecule transports both glucose and sodium ions into the cell and in fact, will not transport either alone.
The essence of transport by the sodium-dependent hexose transporter involves a series of conformational changes induced by the binding and release of sodium and glucose. An abundance of sodium will promote the optimum functioning of this carrier molecule.
If your sodium levels get too low, this condition is called hyponatremia. It is not a common occurrence and people are more prone to having high sodium levels rather than lower ones. However, with age and certain medical conditions, it is not an absolute shock. Certain factors can lead to an acute sodium deficit in the body.
For example, sodium levels could get very low if the body loses too much water and electrolytes. Other causes of hyponatremia include
- Taking diuretic medication
- Liver and kidney disorders
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Adrenal glands disorders
- Heart problems
- Diabetes insipidus – the body doesn’t make enough antidiuretic hormone so a lot of water is lost alongside the electrolytes
- Use of drugs like ecstasy
Those at higher risk of low sodium in the blood include:
High salt sensitivity – the body quickly and easily excretes any excess amounts at times causing a deficiency
Genetically inherited disorders
A heavy exercise that results in a lot of sweating as sweat is one main way of salt excretion – high-performance athletes
Use of antidepressants
Focusing on an extremely low sodium diet
Low sodium levels in the body often indicate an abnormality in another body system. So a sodium test as part of the metabolic panel is a frequent and relevant procedure in hospital tests.
Effects of hyponatremia:
This is a medical emergency and should be accorded the urgency it deserves. The effects of disrupting some of the most vital body functioning mechanisms include:
- Lethargy and general body weakness
- Muscle cramps and spasms
- Altered personality
Hypernatremia – excess sodium in the body
An opposite condition called hypernatremia refers to the presence of having too much sodium in the body. The main cause of this is either inefficient excretion by the kidney or failure to watch your dietary intake. This unlike hyponatremia is more likely to be a progressive build-up rather than an acute effect; it is most likely to occur in most people and also the one Vitaminfood addresses.
The effect of this relates to the osmotic pressure and its impact on the total amount of fluid retained in the body.
- Higher blood pressure
With sodium being osmotically active, having too much of it in the body calls for a regulation mechanism. The kidneys can’t keep up with the excretion pace. The other option is to dilute it hence one feels thirstier often and the kidneys hold onto more water. This increases the total fluid content retained in the body in form of more blood.
The increase in blood volume increases the workload of the heart and the pressure within the very full blood vessels, heart and blood reserves.
- Heart disease and increased risk of stroke
The blood vessels especially major arteries lose their elasticity because of being constantly expanded beyond the normal force. The high sodium content also results in stiffening of the muscles and fibers within these vessels. So sodium damages the heart and its vessels directly and indirectly without increasing blood pressure.
- Fluid imbalance in extracellular and intracellular fluid.
The sodium the extra sodium ions are retained in extra-cellular fluid and actively pumped out of the cells. This is to prevent the lysis of cells by bursting. The osmotic potential of extracellular fluid becomes way higher than normal and draws water from the cell leaving them flaccid. This impairs the cell functions and that of organelles. This is manifested in its effects in form of difficulty in breathing, coma and seizures.
Those more prone to developing this condition are aging adults who are mentally and physically less active and less efficient in the regulation of body electrolytes. They also feel less thirsty and could be suffering from dementia too.
People suffering from dehydration from fever, vomiting and infections.
Those under certain medications that have a diuretic effect.
- Intense thirst
- Renal damage
- Loss of appetite
- Hyperreflexia and neuromuscular excitability.
Normally sodium levels are regulated via renal ion regulation mechanisms. This happens under the influence of aldosterone from the adrenal glands. If secreted, aldosterone causes kidneys to retain sodium and excrete potassium. Less urine is consequently secreted.
Canned foods are top in the high-sodium foods list. Vitaminfood meal replacement powders and protein shakes however are an exclusion. We design our packaged products for health rather than long shelf-life of 3+ years. Vitaminfood has a shelf-life of an year and is a low-moderate sodium diet. We are here to provide the amount of sodium that you need and no more that will likely have contrary health implications.