Sodium chloride -- also known as table salt -- is a compound your body needs to perform a variety of daily functions. Its basic parts, sodium and chloride, rest outside your cells. However, taking in too much can harm your health. Finding the right balance helps you stay healthy and protect your heart.
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Maintains the Sodium-Potassium Pump
Sodium is the major ion -- an electrically charged particle -- outside your cells and potassium is the major ion inside your cells. Your body uses a special mechanism known as the sodium-potassium pump to create energy. When the pump is working, sodium goes in the cells and potassium goes out, which releases energy in your body. The energy created helps your muscles relax and contract and transmit nerve impulses to your brain. If your body is sodium deficient or cannot process sodium properly, you may experience symptoms like muscle weakness, confusion and fatigue.
Maintains Blood Volume
Sodium is needed to maintain a delicate balance in your body known as the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system. These hormones are constantly measuring the amount of fluid and sodium in the body to determine how much water you have in your body. Because your blood is mostly water, this also determines your blood pressure -- the measure of how hard your heart has to work to pump blood through your body. Special receptors in the body can signal the body to absorb more sodium, which adds water to your body. These same receptors can stimulate your body to release sodium when you have too much water in your body. This is why drinking a glass of water helps to relieve bloating due to salt retention.
Raise Blood Pressure in Excess
Sodium chloride increases the amount of water your body retains. This has probably been evident to you after eating a salty meal where you felt bloated afterward. The more sodium you eat, the more water in your blood, which increases the amount of fluid in your blood. As a result, your blood pressure increases because your heart has to work harder to move the increased amount of blood through your body. This can be dangerous for your health because eating too much sodium can lead to sudden heart failure if your heart is already weakened.
How Much You Need
Your body needs sodium chloride to survive -- but too much can set off a catastrophic series of reactions. If you are younger than age 51, you should consume no more than 2,300 mg of salt per day. If you are older than age 51, consume no more than 1,500 mg per day. The number is lower as you age because your risk for high blood pressure and other sodium-related conditions increases. Keeping your sodium intake within healthy limits can help prevent high blood pressure.