Sodium is a vital though often over consummed mineral found throughout the body, usually in the form of sodium chloride or table salt. In liquied solution along with the minerals potassium and chloride, it forms part of the blood, lymph and intracellular fluids that bath and feed all human cells. Together these nutrients maintaining the body’s proper water balance and blood chemistry. Sodium is also required for digestion, muscular functions, and smooth functioning of the nervous system.
The human body maintains strict control of the concentration of sodium within a very narrow range. When sodium levels become elevated, as in the case of eating a salty meal, the body’s first response is to stimulate thirst. This leads to the increased consumption of water, which then dilutes the sodium levels back to normal, allowing the kidneys to excrete the excess. Edema, or water retention, is often caused by a lack of adequate intake of water, forcing the cells of the body to retain excess water to keep sodium levels in check. Conversely, consuming too much water can lead to extremely low concentrations of this mineral, resulting in headaches, mental confusion, and general weakness.
Due to the high levels of sodium in natural and processed foods, a deficiency of sodium is rare, and is usually caused by excessive fasting, starvation, or loss of fluids due to perspiration, vomiting, or diarrhea. Deficiency symptoms include dehydration, weakness, lethargy, low blood sugar, muscle tremors, heart palpitations, and mental confusion.
Of greater concern are the dangers of consuming too much sodium, which can cause high blood pressure, edema, liver disease, kidney disease, and potassium deficiency. The estimated minimum requirement for sodium is between 200 and 500 milligrams per day. Researchers estimate that the average American consumes between 2,300 to 20,000 milligrams per day, depending upon personal tastes and habit. Scientists now recommend that sodium intake be regulated to no more that 2,000 milligrams, or the equivalent of a teaspoon, per day from all sources.