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Health Side Effects of Salt

author image Elle Paula
Elle Paula has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.
Health Side Effects of Salt
spoonfuls of different kinds of salt Photo Credit: olgakr/iStock/Getty Images

Salt, scientifically known as sodium chloride, is a mineral essential to life, according to the National Institute of Health. In the human body, sodium controls the volume of body fluid, helps to maintain electrolyte balance, and is an integral part of proper nerve and muscle function. Although sodium is necessary to sustain human life, consuming too much or too little salt can have negative health side effects.

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Too Much Salt

woman salting her pizza
woman salting her pizza Photo Credit: webphotographeer/iStock/Getty Images

The overconsumption of salt is becoming increasingly common in the American diet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The most well-known side effect of too much salt is hypertension, or high blood pressure. An excess of salt causes blood vessels to constrict, which is dangerous because the heart is required to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Prolonged hypertension increases the risk of heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease. Another side effect of too much salt is edema, a swelling of the body, usually seen in the hands and legs. Edema occurs when the body retains an excess of fluid in an attempt to balance out the extra sodium.

Too Little Salt

teaspoon of salt on top of shaker
teaspoon of salt on top of shaker Photo Credit: Roel Smart/iStock/Getty Images

Although not as common, too little salt also can have negative health side effects. That condition, called hyponatremia, is most often caused by the use of diuretics or severe diarrhea or vomiting. In less common occurrences, hyponatremia can be caused by not eating enough salt, excreting too much sodium through prolonged exercise (such as marathon running), or drinking too much water. Early symptoms of having too little salt in the body include fatigue, confusion, headache, nausea, muscle cramps and a loss of appetite, according to the Mayo Clinic. More severe symptoms are seizures and coma.


woman putting pinch of salt into pot
woman putting pinch of salt into pot Photo Credit: Daniel Täger/iStock/Getty Images

The USDA sets the dietary guideline for salt for the average person at no more than 2,300 mg, or 1 tsp., per day. That recommendation decreases for those with existing heart problems or high blood pressure. An individual will either be put on a 1,000 mg, 2,000 mg or “NAS” ("no added salt") diet, depending on his or her specific condition. The USDA also recommends that African Americans, people with hypertension and older Americans, who all have a higher risk of hypertension, keep their sodium consumption to 1,500 mg or less per day.

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