High amounts of salty, processed foods could double stress levels
Nov. 26, 2022 Medical News Today
Salt is known to improve the taste of many foods, which may tempt consumers to buy more processed, salt-laden products. Common processed foods include commercially packaged bread, cereals, deli meats, soups, cheese, and instant noodles.
Increasing evidence shows that too much salt in the diet can wreak havoc on the body’s cardiovascular and renal systems.
Recently, scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland theorized that high salt consumption might also impose stress on the brain. The results from the experiment showed that high salt intake could elevate stress hormone production.
The study linked the consumption of large amounts of salt-rich food to the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the body’s stress response system. The researchers also noticed a high-salt diet led to increases in glucocorticoids, naturally occurring hormones that help regulate stress response and cardiovascular, cognitive, immune, and metabolic functions.
Matthew Bailey, Ph.D., lead author of the study and professor of renal physiology at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science, told Medical News Today:
“We are what we eat, and understanding how high-salt food changes our mental health is an important step to improving well-being. We know that eating too much salt damages our heart, blood vessels, and kidneys. This study now tells us that high salt in our food also changes the way our brain handles stress.”
The research team hopes that their work will encourage more public health policies that promote the reduction of salt in processed foods.
The findings appear in Cardiovascular Research.
Salt consumption is above healthy levels
Sodium is an essential element that helps regulate the movement of nutrients in and out of cells. The human body requires only a small amount of sodium, which combines with chloride to make up common table salt.
According to the 2020–2025 Dietary GuidelinesTrusted Source, Americans should consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source estimates Americans eat over 3,400 mg every day.
Evangeline Mantzioris, a dietitian and program director of nutrition and food sciences at the University of South Australia, discussed the epidemic of high salt in an April 2022 podcast. She was not involved in the present study.
When we eat too much salt, Mantzioris explained: “It gets absorbed into our intestine and our blood […] It draws fluid into the blood vessels [and] increases the blood pressure against the blood vessel wall — and this is what we call high blood pressure.”
She added that aging and certain health conditions, including preeclampsia, low birth weight, and chronic kidney disease, can increase salt sensitivity. In turn, “our body is less able to deal with all the processes that it needs to keep healthy,” she noted.