We all love salt. It provides flavor to our favorite dishes and is a necessary part of our diets as sodium helps us to maintain fluid levels in the body. And while that balance between fluid and sodium is vital for the longevity of the heart, kidneys and liver, research shows that a diet containing too much sodium can actually speed up aging and negative impacts on those very same organs.
Excessive amounts of sodium have long been known to raise blood pressure resulting in increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The tie to cellular aging stems from a study presented at an American Heart Association conference that looked at overweight and obese subjects, finding that those with a high salt diet experienced telomere shortening. Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of a chromosome which prevent damage and dysfunction in cells.
When cells divide, telomeres become shorter and shorter until the cell can divide no longer and simply dies. This process is associated with conditions that often affect older adults, such diabetes, dementia, heart disease and cancer. Sodium and obesity work together to create this process, which is not age specific. Younger adults who were obese had the same issues.
Age Changes Our Relationship to Salt
The way that the body controls sodium and fluid levels changes with age. We’re less able to regulate fluid levels, thirst and urine concentration than in our younger years. But what about ability to process salty foods and remove excess sodium?
A study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology reports that age has a significant impact on the body’s ability to get rid of excess sodium. For this reason, scientists believe that older adults are at a higher risk of suffering negative consequences that come with high salt diets.
Those consequences are severe. Hypernatremia results from sodium retention which can lead to central nervous system dysfunction and decreased medication effectiveness, leading to adverse health events.
Finding a substitute for salt isn’t easy as we are conditioned to like it from a young age. Many of our favorite foods, be it potato chips, bacon or nuts are high in salt.
There are salt substitutes, but most of them contain potassium chloride as the main ingredient instead of sodium chloride, which can be dangerous for those suffering from kidney or liver issues as their bodies struggle to get rid of excess potassium. It can also cause complications for people on medication for cardiac conditions.
Aside from that, however, salt substitutes are generally considered to be safe, but not necessarily a healthy option. The best way to replace salt in your diet is to go completely salt free and instead use a fuller variety of herbs and spices to bring flavor to your foods. Some good examples include garlic (fresh or powdered), lemon juice, vinegars, cumin, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, tarragon, oregano and herb blends that don’t contain salt.