If we had to shrink and take a submarine trip inside the human body, where would we go to find salt? The answer: pretty much everywhere! Salt’s chemical name is sodium chloride, and here’s just a short list of the places salt is found:
- About 40% of your body’s sodium is contained in bone
- Around 55% is in your blood plasma and fluid outside your cells
- The rest can be found in other cells and organs and cells
Salt, like water, is right in the middle of most of the vital processes that keep you alive, healthy and working properly. In our trip around the body, we’d see your brain sending messages, your nerves carrying them, your glands receiving the messages and sending out chemicals or cells – your blood acting as the highway and your organs getting to work! It’s a busy place, and salt plays a part in almost each job. Here are just a few examples:
- Salt helps to control the amount of fluid in your body – so you don’t swell up like a balloon, or dry out like a twig!
- The chloride part of salt helps to maintain the acid-base level, so that the atmosphere inside your body is just right.
- Sodium is important in proper nerve conduction, and that is how messages are carried.
- It also aids the passage of various nutrients into your cells to keep them healthy.
- Salt helps to keep your blood pressure steady, so that everything moves not too slowly, or too fast, but just right.
- Chloride ions, which you get from salt, contribute to your muscle activity, and the movement of water between fluid compartments.
Yes, but it isn’t enough. While sodium can be found in a variety of foods, chloride can’t. You can only get the chloride your body needs from salt.
What happens if I’ve eaten something really salty today?
Almost all the salt you take in with food or drink is quickly absorbed from your small intestine and quickly heads into your circulatory system and the extracellular space of tissues. For children, during rapid growth, a large amount of sodium is taken up by the bones and other tissues. After we’re fully grown, our bodies get rid of excess salt through our normal excretory channels – urine, sweat, tears and waste. In fact, your kidneys are capable of filtering an incredibly large quantity of sodium each day - a daily equivalent of six pounds of salt!
Salt’s job in your stomach
Salt is your main dietary source of chloride, and your body needs it to make up hydrochloric acid so that you can digest protein to build and repair muscle. Hydrochloric acid has another job: it plays a role in keeping parasites and pathogens from getting into your digestive tract. People on very low salt diets can battle with parasites getting a foothold. Having too little chloride is called hypochlorhydria and it has some uncomfortable symptoms:
- Iron deficiency
- Food allergies
Why do I crave salt sometimes?
And, as if that wasn’t enough, salt is also helps to develop the glial cells in the brain, and it’s needed for your adrenal glands (hormones which are the major message-senders in your body) to work properly! If you crave salt, it could be a sign of poor adrenal function, which can happen when you are stressed or really tired.
Let’s end our journey by looking back in time
All living things that need salt know, instinctively, that it’s precious. Farmers still put out salt licks for livestock who range free. In ancient times salt was often more precious than gold and used for trade. The Celtic word for salt meant “sacred”, Plato wrote that it was “especially dear to the gods” and Homer described it as a “divine substance”.
They weren’t wrong.