We are eating way too much salt than we should thanks to all the processed food around us that we munch for convenience and which contains high amounts of salt. Eating excessive salt has been linked to many diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke and thus can be life-threatening. (Also read: ‘Excessive salt putting people at risk’: WHO issues guidelines for sodium content in food)
A recent study by scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland suggested that high salt consumption could also impose stress on the brain and that eating a lot of salt can elevate stress hormone production. When one consumed large amounts of salt-rich food, it led to activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the body’s stress response system. The study also added that high-salt diet led to increases in glucocorticoids, naturally occurring hormones that help regulate stress response and cardiovascular, cognitive, immune, and metabolic functions.
While sodium is important and has many important functions in our body including movement of nutrients, we certainly do not need more than a small amount of it.
High salt diet can increase stress
“High salt diet can increase stress hormones up to 60 to 75% levels in the brain. Next, there can be also difference in the way that the brain can respond and the time taken to that particular response to stress also may get double. And it can also alter if increasing activity of the genes that are present in certain areas of the brain; it can have an impact on increasing protein because of increase in this gene activity in those stressful areas,” says Dr Altamash Shaikh, Consultant Endocrinologist Masina Hospital, Mumbai.
How high salt diet can damage the brain
“High salt intake can increase BP or blood pressure and it can cause increase in risk of stroke or paralysis. Also, heart diseases and heart attacks can further damage the brain,” says Dr Shaikh.
High salt diet can cause dementia
“High salt intake can also cause forgetfulness or also called as dementia, which can happen because of increased BP This is also called as vascular dementia. Dementia is also called as Alzheimer’s disease and it can be a cause or it can be because of high blood pressure,” says the endocrinologist.
Dr Shaikh says approximately 60% of high blood pressure patients are known to be salt dependent, and it is very important to reduce the salt intake.
High salt diet can cause behavioural changes
“In one of the studies it’s been shown that there is an hyper activation in some areas of the brain which can induce hypoxia or decrease in blood flow and decrease in consequent oxygen levels to the brain. So, this is how high blood pressure with various mechanisms can cause these problems,” the expert adds.
Also, there can be change in lining of the blood vessels which supply the brain and oxygen to the brain and it can actually cause cognitive decline in behavioural changes.
“The one good news is that there this negative effect of high salt intake is reversible. And that is what we teach our patients the lifestyle changes of how to live with less salt,” concludes Dr Shaikh.