Even if you do not eat a lot of processed foods, it can be hard to avoid sodium. Sodium in food is present in many forms, including table salt as sodium chloride, monosodium glutamate or MSG, and sodium bicarbonate in antacids and baking soda. Small amounts of sodium are also naturally found in beets, celery and milk. The effects of sodium on blood pressure have been well-studied, but sodium may also affect your pain tolerance.
Basic Sodium Function
Sodium is necessary for normal body functioning. Sodium is a solute that helps keep fluid in your blood, so you are able to maintain your blood volume and blood pressure. Many cells in your body also rely on sodium/potassium channels to regulate cell activities. Sodium helps transmit the impulses between nerve cells and allows muscle contractions to occur. The adequate intake for sodium is about 1.5 milligrams per day, but most people get well beyond this amount.
Sodium Supplementation Trial
In 1993, the journal "Headache" published a study on the effects of sodium supplements on facial pain and headaches. Patients with head and neck pain were randomly assigned to receive meclofenamate sodium supplements or placebo. They were instructed to keep record of the occurrence and duration of pain. Results showed a significant decrease in pain for the sodium group. These subjects also seemed to lower pain intensity compared to the placebo group, but sodium supplements are not recommended for pain management.
MSG vs. NaCl
Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer often associated with Chinese food. Sodium chloride, NaCl, is the form of sodium used in table salt. In January 2010, the journal "Cephalagia" published a trial study on the effects of MSG vs. sodium chloride supplementation on headaches. Subjects were given sugar-free soda with either MSG or NaCl and assessments of blood pressure and pain tolerance were taken two hours later. Headache and pericranial tenderness were reported in those who drank the soda with MSG. This study suggests that MSG may increase pain sensitivity and headaches in certain individuals.
If you have high blood pressure, it is recommended that you consume no more than 1.5 grams of total sodium per day. Adults without high blood pressure should aim to keep intake below 2.3 grams. While sodium is necessary for nerve impulses and pain signaling, the chances of being sodium deficient are unlikely. Consuming too much sodium can raise your blood pressure and exacerbate chest pain. For most people, avoiding excess sodium from all sources will ultimately help protect you against painful health conditions.