Sodium is an essential mineral your body needs to maintain bodily fluids. Most people have no trouble meeting the daily requirements for sodium in the diet. In fact, the majority of the population far exceed them and are at risk of serious health complications including high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke. However, it is possible to actually have too little sodium in the diet, particularly if you have a medical condition, are a serious athlete or consume diuretics. Low sodium levels in the blood is referred to as hyponatremia and is a serious condition. Speak with a medical professional about your sodium intake and recognize the effects of a dietary sodium deficiency.
Effects On The Brain
Hyponatremia typically occurs when there the body has excreted excess sodium such as with athletes or when too much water is ingested flushing out sodium in the body. Sodium generally regulates the movement of water in and out of cells. Thus, with low levels, water freely moves in and remains there, causing swelling in the body's tissues. Swelling in brain tissues may lead to confusion, disorientation and confusion.
Nausea and Muscle Cramps
In addition to its effect on brain tissue, low sodium levels causes swelling and inflammation in other body tissues including the digestive system and muscles. This results in symptoms of nausea, muscle cramps and twitching. Athletes who get nauseous or leg cramps during a run or work-out are often advised to consume a sports drink or gel that provides sodium to decrease symptoms or the risk of further illness.
Low Blood Pressure
Sodium deficiencies results in a loss of water on the outside of cells, which decreases blood volume. Low blood volume consequentially may lead to low blood pressure, a serious health condition. Low blood pressure affects the body's ability to get essential nutrients and oxygen to organs including the liver and kidneys. This decreases their ability to function and may lead to severe organ damage. Low blood pressure also manifests itself in symptoms such as fatigue and lethargy.
Severe sodium deficiencies may lead to stroke. Inadequate sodium intake leads to increased swelling in the brain's cells and tissues resulting in increased brain pressure against the skull. This pressure may first exhibit itself as a headache but can lead to a stroke if severe enough or not treated properly. Poor transport of essential nutrients and oxygen to the body's organs may also cause the body to shut down and not function, which may also lead to a stroke in addition to organ damage.
- Medical Dictionary: The Free Dictionary.com: Hyponatremia
- Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 4th Edition; Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D.; 2008
- The DASH Diet For Hypertension; Thomas Moore, M.D. & Marc Jenkins; 2003
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Hyponatremia