Why Does Excessive Salt Consumption Cause Edema?

Salt is comprised of two important electrolytes: sodium and chloride. Electrolyte imbalances can occur when intake or loss of an electrolyte is excessive. High quantities of sodium consumption can lead to an electrolyte imbalance, causing hypertension or edema. Edema, known as water retention, occurs when you consume large amounts of sodium relative to your water intake.

Salty snacks in a white bowl. (Image: YUCELOZBER/iStock/Getty Images)

Edema

Edema occurs when excess water accumulates primarily between the cells located in the tissue of your extremities or in your circulatory system. Severe cases of edema may affect the functioning of your heart, lungs and kidneys. Edema is a symptom, not a disease or an illness, indicating your body is under stress. Some risk factors for edema include pregnancy, high-salt consumption, infection, allergies, standing or sitting for long periods of time, elevated blood pressure and physical activity in high temperatures.

Salt

Salt is composed of 60 percent chloride and 40 percent sodium, according to Colorado State University. One teaspoon of salt provides 2,000mg of sodium. Unfortunately, Americans consume, on average, twice this amount daily. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, 150,000 Americans die prematurely each year from consuming high quantities of salt, as of date of publication. Avoid salting food and choosing foods with added salt, such as potato chips and pretzels.

Sodium

Contrary to a popular belief, sodium and salt are not the same. While salt is a key source of sodium, sodium is present in almost all foods. Daily sodium consumption is required for adequate bodily function. Sodium helps regulate your body's water balance. However, sodium can also cause dehydration. When you consume large quantities of sodium, your body starts to hold onto your existing water supply, contributing to edema. According to Colorado State University, consume between 1,500 and 2,300mg of sodium per day.

Water

According to Idaho State Family Planning, three-fourths of Americans are chronically dehydrated. Drinking adequate amounts of water, such as eight 8-oz. servings daily, may help relieve water retention. Consumption of excess sodium increases your body's need for water, as extra water helps dilute the sodium. If enough water is not consumed and your body's overall water balance decreases, the body starts to hoard your existing water supply. This water accumulates in the body's tissues and presents in ankles, feet, arms and hands.

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