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What is sodium ?

Sodium is one of the important minerals required for the optimum functioning of the body. At the same time it is important to note that excessive intake of sodium or salt can lead to many medical complications.

We generally tend to pay a lot less attention to the quantities of sodium that we ingest in our daily lives. A little bit of salt here, a pinch of sodium there and by the time the day has ended, we have already consumed a lot more sodium than needed by the body. It may be surprising to many, but a single tablespoon of salt contains nearly 2300 mg of sodium. In addition, most of the processed foods already have sodium content in them.

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So, if you are one of those people who intake lots of sodium, but do not know if it is the right amount or want to decrease sodium but do not know how, then the information provided below will be helpful.

Benefits of Sodium

  • Helps transmit impulses of the nerves
  • Helps maintain the correct balance of liquids in the body
  • Helps control the relaxation and contraction of muscles
  • The kidneys perform the essential function of maintaining the right levels of sodium in the body, by eliminating excess sodium through urine when not needed and by retaining the sodium if its levels are running low.
  • In case there is failure on the part of the kidneys to remove the excess sodium, then it mixes with the blood. Water is attracted and held by sodium which leads to excess blood volume. This in turn results in overload of the heart to pump more blood through the blood vessels causing several cardiac conditions as well as hypertension.
  • Some individuals have a greater propensity to hold sodium thereby leading to the retention of even small amounts of sodium intake. This can eventually lead to cardiac problems, stroke and kidney problems.

Daily Sodium Intake

The maximum recommended level of sodium intake is around 2400 mg per day. For older individuals and others with heart conditions, diabetes, hypertension and kidney problems, the suggested upper limit intake of sodium per day is around 1500 mg.

The average American ingests around 3500 mg of sodium per day and hence it is essential to know the various sources of sodium, so that we can decrease to the right levels.

  • The usual American diet comprises of prepared and processed foods such as bread, pizza, pasta, soups, meat and egg meals, bacon and cold cuts, cheese and fast foods. Such foods generally tend to be high in sodium and chloride and have additives that include sodium.
  • There are some natural foods such as milk and dairy products, vegetables, meat, etc. which naturally contain sodium. Such foods do not have excess sodium levels, but do add to the overall intake of sodium content.
  • The food that is prepared at home has salt and most of us add salt to the cooked food at the dinner table as well. Condiments, sauces, etc also contain sodium

Normal sodium levels

  • Sodium levels in the body should neither be too high or too low than the normal levels.
  • The recommended blood sodium levels can range between 134 mEq/L to 144 mEq/L.
  • The abbreviation mEq/L stands for millequivalents per liter.

Low sodium levels

  • When the sodium levels drop to 120 mEq/L, a visit to a doctor is required for constant monitoring. Such levels of blood sodium are not serious in some individuals and they may be able to function normally. Others may face several symptoms such as lethargy, tiredness, nausea, confusion and muscle cramps.
  • Blood sodium levels that are below 110 mEq/L can lead to severe medical complications such as seizures.
  • Most of the instances of decreased sodium levels are caused due to increased perspiration, the intake of diuretics or a burn injury.
  • Consumption of large quantities of water can also result in low sodium levels
  • Underlying medical conditions such as kidney diseases and cardiac conditions can cause severely decreased levels of blood sodium.
  • Some types of cancers such as brain or lung cancer have been known to cause low levels of sodium

High levels of sodium

  • Blood sodium levels that touch 150 mEq/L are termed as elevated levels of blood sodium and result in a condition known as hypernatremia
  • Elevated levels of sodium can lead to several complications that begin with inflammation and swelling. Irrational behavior, thirst, restlessness and agitation soon follow. In case, the sodium levels reach an extreme high, then it can lead to convulsions and coma in individuals.
  • Underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and hormonal irregularities can lead to high blood sodium levels
  • Decreased consumption of water in combination with high sodium intake can lead to deficient amounts of diuretic hormone which can result in disorders such as diabetes insipidus or Cushing’s syndrome
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