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Have Edema? You Might Need to Eat More Salt

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Most doctors and health professionals will tell you to eat less salt if you have edema- not more. However, studies suggest that in some cases of edema, too little salt is the problem- not too much. If this is the case, cutting out salt will only make the problem worse. Find out more about the role of salt in edema below.

If you have edema, you should restrict your salt intake, because salt is caused by excess sodium in the blood. At least, that is what you will hear from most doctors.

However, here at Progressive Health, we are not satisfied with just taking the doctor's word for it. We like to look at what the science really says, and if there are ways to treat the issue naturally without drugs (in this case, chemical diuretics).

It turns out, there is more to the salt story than what you have heard on TV or read on mainstream health websites. Salt is a necessary component of the body that is vital for many functions and processes. Although you can have too high levels of sodium in the body, restricting salt intake too much is also bad for your health, and may actually cause the edema that you are trying to prevent. Read more about this curious connection below and find out the truth for yourself.

What Does Salt Do in the Body?

Salt is made up of sodium and chloride which are essential for life. The body does not make salt, which means you have to get it from things that you eat. Salt is responsible for:

  • Carrying nutrients around the body
  • Maintaining blood pressure
  • Supporting brain health and neurological balance
  • Carries messages from the brain to the muscles Is a component in extracellular fluid, amniotic fluid, lymphatic fluid, and blood plasma
  • Prevents fluid leakage
  • Controls fluid volume
  • Protects bone health

Sodium is necessary for many of the functions of the body, from breaking down carbohydrates to maintaining the proper pH in the body. Most of the salt in our diet comes from salt specifically, although some foods do have natural salts in them as well.

Salt Levels and Edema

When your body does not have enough salt, a condition known as hyponatremia can occur. Hyponatremia occurs when your salt levels are below 136 mmol/liter. Symptoms of hyponatremia include headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, nausea, fainting, and edema. Hyponatremia can be dangerous if swelling occurs in the brain, which can cause brain damage or even death. Most people are probably not at risk for extreme hyponatremia, but eliminating salt when experiencing edema may be a bad idea.

Studies on Salt and Edema

Few studies have examined the role of salt directly in edema. Most health professionals recommend cutting back on salt products when experiencing edema because salt is thought to cause swelling.

When you increase your salt consumption, your body retains more water because it tries to maintain the ideal salt/potassium levels in the blood. However, too little salt in the diet can also lead to swelling. This is because albumin (a nutrient make from protein) and salt work together to keep fluids in your circulatory system. Eating enough salt (and protein) ensures that you have enough osmotic pressure to prevent fluid from leaking into your tissues and back into the blood. The fluid that you don’t need is removed by the kidneys.

In 1979, studies published in the ” Maternal Nutrition and Child Health” were conducted on pregnant women and the role of salt in reducing birth defects and other pregnancy complications. Far from a high-salt diet causing preeclampsia and increased edema, pregnant women on the highest salt diets had healthier pregnancies and less risk for preeclampsia and other pregnancy complications. Women on high-salt diets had higher birth weights and few complications such as c-sections and infant deaths.

In 1988, a study published in the “Brazilian Journal Of Medical and Biological Research” examined the role of salt in edema in rats. When rats were fed a high-salt diet, they had less vascular leaking (edema) and less inflammation, which reduced bloating

A 2006 study published in the “Journal of Neurosurgical Anesthesiology” examined the role of salt in temperature changes in the body. A lack of salt can cause the body to drop slightly in temperature, which can lead to problems like inflammation and swelling in an effort to heat the body back up.

Rats held in a cold room were more likely to eat more salt in a 1996 study published in the journal “Appetite.”

How Much Salt Do I Need?

There is some debate about how much salt is necessary. Modern FDA guidelines suggest that adults consume less than 1.5 teaspoons of salt daily- but this may not be enough salt to sustain healthy body functions. Studies from the 1950s compared with today indicate that rather than eating more salt than ever, we actually consume a lot less. The average person in the 1940s and 1950s ate about 3.5 teaspoons of salt a day.

Determining how much salt you need is also dependant on the type of salt that you eat. Table salt is highly processed and does not contain the vital nutrients found in natural salt. Table salt also may contain aluminum, which is dangerous in high concentrations. Most studies on salt have looked at processed table salt, which could be responsible for the seemingly dangerous side effects of salt consumption. Natural salt contains visible minerals that you can clearly see, and could be described as “dirty.” The “dirt” is actually the minerals that make salt healthy for consumption.

Most pro-salt studies have indicated that you should eat salt to cravings. If you are craving something salty, then you can eat it, but if you are not, then you probably have enough salt in your diet. Drinking too much water can also upset the balance of salt in the blood. You should only drink to thirst rather than try to hit some water-drinking daily goal.

Other Dangers of Low-Salt Diets
  • Low birth weight
  • Increased risk for pregnancy complications
  • Increased risk for heart disease
  • Increased falls in the elderly
  • Increased insulin resistance

Am I Eating Enough Salt?

The only way to know if you are getting enough salt is to watch out for signs of hyponatremia. Another sign is if you are craving salt. Women typically crave salt around ovulation, because blood volume rises slightly in preparation for potential pregnancy. This is the time when most health experts recommend restricting salt intake to control premenstrual bloating. However, it is likely the lack of salt that leads to bloating.

Possible Signs of Hyponatremia
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Lack of energy
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Muscle cramps

Other Ways to Prevent/Reduce Edema

Salt is not the only factor in edema. In fact, edema can be caused by a variety of factors. If you suffer from chronic enema, try adding some of these steps to control your edema:

Elevation and Movement

Sometimes elevation and movement are key to preventing edema. Your body is designed to move, and sitting at a desk all day is detrimental to your health and may cause edema. If you have edema in a specific spot, try elevating the area for 20-40 minutes at a time a few times a day until swelling goes down. You can also add regular exercise to your daily routine to encourage your blood to circulate.

Support Vascular Health

Edema is often the result of fluids leaking out of blood vessels into nearby tissues. This will happen less often if your veins are stronger. A variety of supplements and minerals can help support the health of your blood vessels and reduce edema risk.

Ginkgo biloba is an herb that is often used as a blood thinner. It promotes circulation and makes blood less sticky. Horse chestnut is able to reduce the leakage of fluid from the capillaries and improving the health of the circulatory system. Magnesium is able to reduce edema symptoms in women during pre-menstruation. In a study from 1998, women who supplemented with magnesium had less swelling and bloating compared with the placebo group. Potassium is another essential ingredient that is one of the three main electrolytes in the blood.

Other Helpful Supplements

Pressure or Massage

One way to relieve edema is to actually force the fluid to leave the area with pressure or massage. Compression stockings are often used in pregnancy to control leg edema. Massaging the swollen area for 20 minutes will also force some of the fluid back into your blood vessels where your kidneys can eliminate it from the body. Daily massage on swollen areas can help keep severe edema at bay.

Salt: A Surprising Cure for Edema

You may not believe that increasing your salt intake can reduce edema, but just try it and see. You may be surprised at how much better you feel when eating more salt. Just make sure you are eating the right kind of salt- salt filled with other beneficial minerals- because table salt is dangerous for your health.

Typically, salt that looks dirty is mineral-rich and will boost your body’s functions while cutting down on fluid retention. Additionally, you can support your vascular health with the supplements listed above. When you do suffer from excess swelling, elevation and rest, combined with pressure and massage, can make the swelling end sooner.





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