To our doctors, it’s a four letter word.
They tell us to cut back on our consumption of salt.
They tell us that if we don’t cut back on our salt, we’re at risk of developing:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
But, they don’t tell us how difficult it’s going to be kicking our salt habits.
And they sure as heck didn’t tell us that:
Salt might be ‘nature’s antidepressant’
Psychologist Kim Johnson and colleagues found in their research that when rats are deficient in salt, they shy away from activities they normally enjoy, like drinking a sugary substance or pressing a bar that stimulates a pleasant sensation in their brains.
“Things that normally would be pleasurable for rats didn’t elicit the same degree of relish, which leads us to believe that a salt deficit and the craving associated with it can induce one of the key symptoms associated with depression,” Johnson said.
The researchers can’t say that a lack of salt can induce clinical depression, but a “loss of pleasure in normally pleasing activities” is a key feature of psychological depression.
So, I’m sad because I cut back on the salt?
“The idea that salt is a natural mood-elevating substance could help explain why we’re so tempted to over-ingest it, even though it’s known to contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems”.
So why does salt make me happy?
Evolution might have played an important part in the human hankering for salt.
Humans evolved from creatures that lived in salty ocean water. Once on land, the body continued to need sodium and chloride because minerals play key roles in allowing fluids to pass in and out of cells, and in helping nerve cells transfer information throughout the brain and body.
But as man evolved in the hot climate of Africa, perspiration robbed the body of sodium. Salt was scarce because our early ancestors ate a veggie-rich diet and lived far from the ocean.
“Most of our biological systems require sodium to function properly, but as a species that didn’t have ready access to it, our kidneys evolved to become salt misers,” Johnson said.
Behavior also came to play a key role in making sure we have enough salt on board. Animals like us come equipped with a taste system designed to detect salt and a brain that remembers the location of salt sources — like salt licks in a pasture. A pleasure mechanism in the brain is activated when salt is consumed.
So the body needs salt and knows how to find it and how to conserve it.
But today scientists are finding evidence that it’s an abused, addictive substance — almost like a drug.
So now I’m hooked on salt?
When the researchers examined their salt-addicted lab rats, they found that the brain pathways linked to salt addiction were related to the brain pathways linked to drug addiction.
- I can’t eat salt because I might get high blood pressure.
- But, if the thought of a potential stroke is depressing, I should increase my salt consumption,
- Unless I am concerned about becoming addicted to salt, using too much, getting high blood pressure and having a stroke.
Now I’m really confused.
How about you?
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