Toxicologists have a saying that “the dose makes the poison,” meaning that anything and everything can kill you in large enough quantities. So here we take five incredibly common (and usually benign) foods and household items to their illogical conclusion. Ever contemplated eating 480 bananas? Don’t do it.
While we’re on that note, this isn’t a dare. Also, drinking that much coffee sounds disgusting.
- Salt poisoning: Who is at risk?
- Salt: Too Much or Too Little Can Kill You
- Conflicting Advice
- Is Salt the New Cholesterol Myth?
- What to Do? Eat Real Food.
- Too Much Salt Can Kill You: How to Decrease Your Use and Protect Your Heart
- What Is Sodium Sensitivity?
- Sodium Intake and High Blood Pressure Risk
- Sodium as a Cause of Cardiac-related Death
- What Are the Consequences of Salt Consumption?
- How to Prevent Cardiovascular Complications and Death from Sodium Intake
- How Eating Too Much Salt Can Kill You
- When Table Salt Becomes Poison
- We’re eating too much salt. And it’s killing us.
- 6 things you thought you knew about salt that just aren’t true
- Myth 1: All salt is out to kill you and you shouldn’t eat any of it
- Myth 2: Pink/black/rock/sea/Himalayan salt is better for you than other types of salt
- Myth 3: Some people naturally crave more salt than others
- Myth 4: You can tell that a food is salty by tasting it
- Myth 5: You should eat or drink more salt after working out
- Myth 6: If you had high blood pressure caused by too much salt, you’d be able to tell
- More information and resources
- Study: Eating Too Much Salt is Killing Us By the Millions
Let us ignore, for now, the logistical difficulties of fitting 480 bananas in our stomach, and talk about potassium. A typical banana contains about 450 milligrams of potassium, making it an excellent source of the electrolyte. Potassium ions flow through our bodies, maintaining the balance of fluid inside and playing a role in muscle contractions and nerve impulses. Cells in virtually every tissue in the body have potassium channels.
It would be virtually impossible to eat a median lethal dose of potassium (about 1.4 pounds), but the element is a lot more deadly injected directly into the bloodstream, when a massive and sudden influx overwhelms the body. We know this all too well because in lethal injections, potassium chloride is the final chemical that stops the heart from beating.
179 Espresso Shots
A moderate dose of caffeine is a much-needed pick-me-up in the mornings. A very high dose of caffeine is caffeine intoxication, the worst parts of drinking coffee exacerbated: restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, an upset stomach, a racing heart. Take that to an even further extreme and caffeine can overstimulate the nervous system so much that it causes a cardiac dysrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or seizure.
A median lethal dose is about 11 grams for an adult. Caffeine poisoning is extremely rare and unlikely with coffee alone, but the advent of pills and caffeine-laced energy drinks have made the problem worse.
47 Teaspoons of Salt
As any reader of castaway survivor stories will know, do not drink the seawater. There is far too much salt in it for our bodies to handle.
Like potassium, sodium is an electrolyte that regulates the water flowing in and out of our cells. When there is too much sodium in the interstitial fluid that bathes our cells, water will naturally leave those cells by osmosis to restore the balance. This causes the cells to shrink. The most obvious symptoms of hypernatremia, or an excess of salt, are neurological: unresponsiveness, lethargy, weakness. Too much salt, and it can cause seizures or a coma.
17 Bottles of Water
Yes, even water. Water intoxication is essentially the opposite of too much salt. When there is too much water and not enough salt in the interstitial fluid between our cells, those cells start taking in water and swell up like balloons. Tightly packed brain cells have no room to swell inside the skull, leading to brain damage that could be fatal.
Drinking that sheer amount of water is rare under normal circumstances. It is most common in endurance athletes or ravers taking ecstasy, where the sweating leads to a lot of water drinking. But electrolytes lost through sweat also need to be replaced. Our bodies generally do a good job of maintaining a water balance between all that sweating, peeing, eating, and drinking, but it physically breaks down at the extremes—specifically, 17 16-ounce bottles.
24 Tubes of Toothpaste
Every tube of toothpaste comes with a warning: “Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age.” Fluoride in small doses is indisputably good for preventing cavities, but too much of it can necessitate a call to the Poison Control center. Still, a deadly dose requires a lot of toothpaste—24 6-ounce tubes for an adult and multiple tubes even for a small child. A review of 87 fluoride ingestion cases in children found none with lasting effects that were the result of eating toothpaste.
Illustrations by Michael Hession
A Brief Note on Methodology
All numbers are calculated using a standard metric called median lethal dose (LD50), the dose that kills half of a tested population. This accounts for natural variability between subjects, but it also means that even a dose below the LD50 can be lethal. LD50s are usually tested in rats or mice and reported as milligrams of substance per kilogram of body weight. These numbers are calculated for a 90 kg (approximately 200 lb) adult human male and are, of course, only estimates. Again, don’t take this as a dare.
Here are the sources for the LD50s and other relevant numbers.
Bananas: Potassium citrate, which is the form of potassium in bananas, has an LD50 of 7200mg/kg. About 1/3 of the molecular weight of potassium citrate is from the potassium, so a banana that contains 450 mg of potassium contains 1350 mg of potassium citrate.
Caffeine: Caffeine has an LD50 of 127 mg/kg. A shot of espresso contains 64 mg of caffeine.
Salt: Table salt (sodium chloride) has an LD50 of 3000 mg/kg. A teaspoon of salt weighs about 5.69 grams.
Water: Water has an LD50 of 90 ml/kg.
Toothpaste: Sodium fluoride has an LD50 of 52 mg/kg. One 4.6-ounce tube of toothpaste contains 152 mg of sodium fluoride; a 6-oz tube contains about 198 mg.
Salt poisoning: Who is at risk?
Yes, you can overdose on salt.
A South Carolina mother made headlines this week for allegedly killing her 17-month-old daughter by feeding her a teaspoon of salt. The 23-year-old mother is now facing homicide charges, but isn’t the first parent to be accused of killing their child via salt overdose.
In 2015, a 27-year-old Kentucky mom was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for poisoning her 5-year-old son to death using salt. A Texas mother of five was convicted of killing her 4-year-old foster son in 2007 after being accused of feeding him excessive amounts of salt.
But what exactly is salt poisoning, and who is at risk?
Salt poisoning, also known as hypernatremia, is when a body takes in dangerously high levels of sodium, according to the National Capital Poison Center. Too much sodium in the bloodstream can damage brain cells, and lead to seizures, coma or even death. Fluid can build up in the lungs, causing trouble breathing. Other symptoms of salt poisoning include kidney damage, nausea, vomiting and weakness.
A quick search on the web reveals salt poisoning cases are rare, except in extreme cases involving children.
ABC10 spoke with Justin Lewis, the Clinical Managing Director of the Sacramento division of the California Poison Control System. He said children are at most risk of salt poisoning.
“The most common intake is table salt, usually in small bodies, like a kid,” he said.
The Poison Control’s guidelines determine that for children and adolescents, a full teaspoon of salt ingested at once calls for necessary medical intervention.
Lewis said the Sacramento center gets about five calls a week over concerns of salt poisoning in children, but only a couple get referred to the emergency room a month.
“Luckily most of the time if they do get exposure, we send them to the hospital, they get electrolytes, and only experience nausea and vomiting,” Lewis said.
Salt poisoning in adults is not common and Lewis said poisoning cases depend on the individual adult’s medical history and physical factors. He said adults with special needs and dementia may be at higher risk of a sodium overdose.
In the past, salt water was used to induce vomiting, Lewis added, and the practice has led to salt poisoning in children. Medical experts now advise against that practice. He also said there are concentrated baby formulas that if not diluted, may cause sodium poisoning.
The Poison Control does have a report of a 5-week-infant who died from salt poisoning after drinking improperly made formula.
Although it’s important to always be careful, the chances of having a child experience salt poisoning are slim. In fact, Tricia Tomiyoshi, spokesperson for UC Davis Children’s Hospital, says there’s not a single incident of a salt poisoning known at the medical center.
Dietary guidelines recommend Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day.
In case of a poison emergency, or for more information, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers:
Copyright 2016 KXTV
Salt: Too Much or Too Little Can Kill You
I was traveling in India in the ’90s when I first discovered the power of salt. It was extremely hot and my legs started to swell so badly my ankles were the same size as my thighs…. Now that is a bad look!
I visited an Ayurvedic doctor and was told, “Oh, you need to add salt to your diet.” In my naturopathic training, I had been taught to avoid salt and had covered all of the dangers of a high-sodium diet. But, I followed the Ayurvedic doctor’s advice, and within a day, my ankles were back to normal.
Battles have been fought over salt, so there has to be more to this story right?
Like you, I think a lot about what I am eating. Am I eating enough greens? Too much sugar? Am I getting enough fiber and enough protein? How much sodium do you need? It’s no easy task to objectively assess your diet, especially with all the conflicting information out there. So what is the final word on salt in our diets?
A new study out of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) suggests that current recommendations to lower your sodium intake could be unhealthy. However, two other studies also published in the NEJM continue to reinforce the nutritional wisdom that too much sodium can have serious impacts on your cardiovascular health. Upon reading this, my first thought was: Great. Something new to worry about!
You might recall that for years we were told that eating high cholesterol foods, such as eggs, led to higher cholesterol levels, and that higher cholesterol levels could lead to heart disease.
It’s true. Higher cholesterol levels do increase your risk of heart disease. But, it turns out that eating foods high in cholesterol doesn’t cause your cholesterol levels to increase like previously thought. Current research now suggests that limiting your cholesterol intake can actually increase your risk of heart disease.
Is Salt the New Cholesterol Myth?
We’ve been told for years that increased salt intake results in higher blood pressure, and that high blood pressure is attributed with higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and other conditions.
Currently, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that we consume a maximum of 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. They also report that, currently, most American’s consume approximately 3,400 milligrams per day! Essentially, we’re consuming double the recommended amount.
Heart disease is a leading cause of death in America, but once again, two new findings have health enthusiasts rethinking their dietary choices:
- The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study tracked over 100,000 individuals from more than a dozen countries for an average of three years. Their conclusion was: individuals who consumed less than 3,000 milligrams of sodium per day had a 27% higher risk of death or serious event than those who consumed 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams of sodium!
- In 2013, the Institute of Medicine, which advises Congress on health issues, reported finding no evidence that reducing sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams reduced the risk of heart disease.
These new findings have some experts re-thinking the recommended sodium intake. Is salt bad for you like previously thought? Or is salt good for you? But before you run out for that fresh, warm, extra-extra-salt pretzel…
This new research doesn’t necessarily mean that you should stop paying attention to your sodium intake. After all, if anything is clear, it’s that too much or too little salt can pose severe health risks.
What to Do? Eat Real Food.
So how can we avoid all of this? Or, at least, mitigate our risk? By maintaining our holistic nutrition and eating a balanced diet of real, organic, whole foods! After all, salt and cholesterol naturally occur in a lot of our food. For example, did you know that:
- 100 grams of scrambled eggs (approximately two eggs) contains 145 milligrams of sodium and 277 milligrams of cholesterol
- 100 grams of frozen assorted vegetables (approximately ½ cup), unsalted, contains 48 milligrams of sodium and 0 milligrams of cholesterol
- 100 grams of beets contains 78 milligrams of sodium and 0 milligrams of cholesterol
- 100 grams of creamed cottage cheese contains 364 milligrams of sodium and 17 milligrams of cholesterol
- 100 grams of cheddar cheese contains 644 milligrams of sodium and 102 milligrams of cholesterol
- 100 grams of spinach contains 79 milligrams of sodium and 0 milligrams of cholesterol
- 100 grams Swiss chard contains 213 milligrams of sodium and 0 milligrams of cholesterol
- 100 grams of balsamic vinaigrette contains 966 milligrams of sodium and 0 milligrams of cholesterol
- 100 grams of beef tenderloin steak (approximately 3½ ounces) contains 57 milligrams of sodium and 92 milligrams cholesterol
- 100 grams of shrimp contains 111 milligrams of sodium and 189 milligrams of cholesterol
Do any of these surprise you? Let me know in the comments!
Sodium intake in populations. (2013). (Brief). Institute of Medicine of the National Academics.
Too Much Salt Can Kill You: How to Decrease Your Use and Protect Your Heart
We all have heard about sodium. Sodium and chloride are the primary components of salt. Often when I talk to my patients about lifestyle changes that they can make to improve their heart health; the first thing I am told is they have stopped adding salt to their meals. In this sense, most of us have in our minds that too much salt is a bad thing for our health.
In Western cultures salt is in almost all of our food sources. We use if for taste, as a preservative, and also for texture. When people get serious about lowering their salt, they are often amazed at how much they consume. Look on nutrition labels for all your food sources. Salt will be listed by serving. Make sure you also look at the label if you drink soda, including diet drinks, as well as coffee and tea.
We all need salt in our diets. Salt helps us maintain our blood pressure, keep our cells healthy, and allows our body to conduct electrical signals in our heart, gastrointestinal tract, and nervous system. Unfortunately we often get too much. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day. If you are older than 51, black, or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease your diet should have less than 1,500 mg.
What Is Sodium Sensitivity?
This is the elevated blood pressure response with salt intake. It is quite variable in each of us. The variations are driven by our genetics and age. Unfortunately, salt sensitivity increases with age and this is what drives the recommendation to lower your daily salt after the age of 50. Also, people who are obese, black, have metabolic syndrome, or chronic kidney disease have higher rates of salt sensitivity, the DASH-sodium clinical trial showed.
Sodium Intake and High Blood Pressure Risk
High blood pressure (primary hypertension) is often of reflection of where we live. It is seen frequently in societies that on average consume 2.3 grams of sodium a day or more. But it is almost never seen in societies than consume less than 1.2 grams of sodium a day, studies show. In addition, when people who live in low sodium societies migrate to high sodium societies, they often develop high blood pressure. These observations provide powerful insight into the role of lifestyle and dietary choices on our health. By lowering your sodium by 1.0 gram per day for 4 weeks a study of patients with high blood pressure showed that you could typically lower your blood pressure by 5/3 mmHg. In addition, many of the commonly used blood pressure medications are more potent or effective when used in combination with salt restriction.
Why is it important to worry about blood pressure, even early in life, and even you are a very active athlete? High blood pressure is a very common cause of atrial fibrillation, heart failure, coronary artery disease, stroke, dementia, and kidney disease. If you consider all of these disease states, it accounts for most of the common reasons we die.
In a new article, Dr. Mozaffarian and colleagues from Tufts University examined the role of global sodium consumption and cardiovascular death, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. They performed dietary surveys in 66 countries.
With these surveys they reported amazing findings.
- Global average sodium consumption per day was 3.95 gm. This is nearly 2 times greater than the recommended amount, and nearly 3 times greater than the recommended amount in people over 50 or those with other diseases.
- Women on average consumed less salt per day than men (3.77 gm versus 4.14 gm).
- People over 70 consumed more salt than younger people on a daily basis (4.07 gm versus 3.97 gm).
- The greater your income, the more salt you ate. The highest incomes consumed 3.88 gm per day compared to the lowest incomes that consumed 2.91 gm per day.
The study highlights several important items. First, we consume way too much salt globally. Second, people who may be at the highest risk of high blood pressure from salt, due to salt sensitivity, consumed more than those people at lower risk.
What Are the Consequences of Salt Consumption?
The most sobering details of the study from Tufts University were the global consequences of too much salt consumption. The group estimated that 1.65 million deaths from heart causes were attributed to high sodium intake. These deaths account for approximately 1 of every 10 deaths related to the heart. Of these deaths 4 of 5 were in lower income countries and 40 percent were before the age of 70. In general, the highest death rates were seen in Central Asia, Eastern and Central Europe followed by East Asia and Southeast Asia. The country with the highest death rates attributed to sodium was Georgia.
How to Prevent Cardiovascular Complications and Death from Sodium Intake
The Mayo Clinic has an excellent resource to follow to lower your salt intake.
Recommended steps include:
- Eat more fresh foods (remember salt is preservative and frequently is added to processed food products).
- Choose “low” sodium products.
- Remove salt from recipes when possible and always from your table when you eat.
- Minimize the use of condiments that are often sodium rich (soy sauce, salad dressing, ketchup, mustard, relish, and sauces/dips).
- Replace salt with herbs and other spices to improve salt (do not substitute with sea salt as this contains the same amount of sodium as typical salt).
- Learn how to read nutritional labels.
- Sodium-free or salt-free:
- Very low sodium:
- Low sodium:
- Reduced or less sodium: At least 25 percent less sodium than the regular version
- Lite or light in sodium. At least 50 percent less sodium than the regular version
- Unsalted or no salt added. No salt is added during processing of a food, but the food source itself may contain sodium.
- Don’t forget your breads. Bread often contains a lot of sodium. I often see people buy whole grain or multigrain bread as a healthy food choice. Again, be careful to read the back label to see how much sodium per slice is in the bread. It can be up to 100 mg/slice.
How Eating Too Much Salt Can Kill You
Deaths from stroke also fell in the 8-year study from England
MONDAY, April 14, 2014 (HealthDay News) — A drop in salt consumption likely played a big role in a recent large reduction in deaths related to heart disease and stroke in England, a new study suggests.
The amount of salt in people’s diets declined 15 percent from 2003 to 2011. And deaths from heart disease fell by 40 percent and deaths from stroke decreased by 42 percent during that period, according to the study.
Programs to reduce salt consumption throughout the United Kingdom began in 2003.
However, the researchers also said that salt consumption in England is still too high and much more needs to be done to lower salt content in foods. Salt boosts blood pressure, experts note, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
The new study was published online April 15 in the journal BMJ Open.
For the study, researcher Graham MacGregor, at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London, and colleagues analyzed data gathered from thousands of people who were followed from 2003 to 2011.
During that time, the participants showed improvements in several risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Average cholesterol and blood pressure levels fell, consumption of fruits and vegetables rose, and smoking rates decreased, according to a journal news release.
While these changes contributed to the decrease in heart disease and stroke deaths, it was the 15 percent reduction in salt intake that had the greatest impact, the study authors speculated.
“The reduction in salt intake is likely to be an important contributor to the falls in blood pressure in England from 2003 to 2011. As a result, the decrease in salt intake would have played an important role in the reduction in stroke and ischemic heart disease mortality during this period,” the researchers wrote.
However, they noted that 70 percent of adults in England still consume more than recommended daily maximum amount of salt, with 80 percent of salt intake coming from processed foods.
“Therefore, continuing and much greater efforts are needed to achieve further reductions in salt intake to prevent the maximum number of stroke and heart disease deaths,” the study authors concluded.
While the study found a link between reduced salt consumption and death rates, it didn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship. Also, the authors could not account for physical activity levels, another possible factor.
SOURCE: BMJ Open, news release, April 14, 2014
When Table Salt Becomes Poison
There are some kinds of human depravity that I will never truly understand. While I may oppose or abhor various forms of violence or crime, in many cases I can reason through how people can be driven to engage in them. But some are beyond my capacity to truly grasp.
Nothing defeats my powers of comprehension like the deliberate harm of a child.
Reading about the case of Lacey Spears, a woman recently arrested on suspicion of killing her son with overdoses of salt, I once again confronted a situation where the malevolence or unfathomable sickness of another individual confounded me utterly. If she is proved to have committed the crime of which she stands accused, it baffles me as a human being, to say nothing of being my being a parent and a pediatrician.
While her motivations may permanently defy explanation, her methods are easier to analyze. Salt probably doesn’t strike most people as a potential poison, which may well have been her rationale for using it. Indeed, under most circumstances it would be ineffective to try poisoning someone with it. But the specifics of her son’s situation made it possible.
Salt (or, more specifically, sodium) excess goes by the medical term “hypernatremia.” Simply put, this is when the balance of sodium and water in a person’s body tips dangerously toward the former. There are a variety of causes. The ones I’ve encountered were due to massive diarrhea in patients vomiting too much to replace the water loss, or those getting IV fluids where their sodium needs weren’t properly calculated and they were given too much.
The ill effects of hypernatremia are primarily caused by cell shrinkage and damage in the brain. Our fluids and electrolytes occupy different spaces within our bodies, both inside and outside our cells. When there is an imbalance between water and chemical levels (“osmolality”) in one space and another, the laws of chemistry require water to move such that balance is restored. Simply put, if there is too much sodium outside the brain cells, water will flow out to right this discrepancy, causing the cells to shrink. Confusion, jitteriness, seizures, coma, and death can result if things aren’t corrected.
The reason normal, healthy people can’t be effectively poisoned with sodium is that we get thirsty. Once a threshold osmolality is reached in our bodies, it triggers our brains to make us seek water. (Brain damage to the centers responsible for this can also cause hypernatremia.) Assuming we have access to water and can keep it down, it solves the problem.
But Spears’ son Garnett was tube fed. I don’t know the details of his case beyond what has been reported, so I don’t know what capacity (if any) he had to take in fluids by mouth. If his ability to drink was absent or too limited to compensate for massive amounts of sodium given in his feeding tube, he could be effectively poisoned with it. Presumably his mother thought it would go undetected because of how peculiar and specific the circumstances of its use for this evil purpose.
The “how” of Spears’ alleged crime make sense once the basic physiology of thirst and electrolyte balance are understood. It was probably relatively easy to accomplish. What remains beyond reach, forever, is why.
We’re eating too much salt. And it’s killing us.
The world has an increasingly high taste for salty foods — a taste that new research suggests leads to to 1.65 million excess deaths annually.
The massive study, overseen by 10 researchers working in Boston and London, brought together two important data points. First, they looked at what we know from prior studies of how much salt increases the risk of death from heart disease. Then they looked at how much salt each country is consuming.
Pulling those two data sets together, they found that too much salt consumption kills more than a million people each year, with death rates the highest in low- and middle income countries.
Another way to put it: too much salt intake now accounts for one of every ten deaths from cardiovascular causes.
We’re consuming nearly twice as much sodium as recommended
The World Health Organization recommends consuming no more than 2 grams of sodium daily. (That works out to about 5 grams of salt, which is a compound of sodium and chloride.) The WHO set this level using research about how much sodium consumption can lead to risk of heart disease or death.
Using urine samples taken from 1.38 million people across the globe, the researchers in this study found that the average person now consumes 3.95 grams of sodium daily, nearly twice the recommended amount. High consumption is pretty much an international norm: 181 of the 189 countries studies exceeded the recommended intake.
More sodium intake means more deaths
There is a lengthy body of research tying higher sodium intake to higher blood pressure — and then, in turn, tying that to higher rates of death from cardiovascular events, like heart attacks and strokes.
The researchers here used those estimates to extrapolate out how many deaths the world’s increased taste for salt causes. Their study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“On the basis of the correlations between sodium intake and blood pressure and between blood pressure and cardiovascular mortality,” they wrote, “we found that 1.65 million deaths from cardiovascular causes worldwide in 2010 were attributable to sodium consumption.”
Those deaths span the globe, as you can see in the map below.
(The New England Journal of Medicine)
The rate of deaths due to excessive sodium consumption is especially high in Central Asia and Eastern and Central Europe (the areas that are red in the map above). The country with the highest rate of death from too much sodium is Georgia, where the researchers estimate that, for every 1 million residents, excess salt kills 1,967 annually.
Many of these deaths occur in non-elderly populations: the paper estimates that, of deaths caused by excess sodium intake, 40 percent happen to people younger than 70. And the vast majority of deaths — four out of every five — happen in low to middle income countries.
No fast fix in sight
Over the past 40 years, the percent of Americans who consume more sodium than recommended has gone up.
(Institute of Medicine)
There is some evidence though that our taste for salt may be plateauing: survey data from 2003 through 2010 showed no change in the number of Americans who consume too much salt.
It’s fair to think of that as less-bad news: there doesn’t seem to be an increase in the percent of Americans consuming too much salt, but most people already have higher than recommended intake.
Correction: an initial version of this story misstated the average sodium intake as salt intake. The average sodium intake found in this study was 3.95 grams per day.
Aug 05, 2016 1:00 AM
Author: Libby Mitchell
Salt is everywhere. It’s in our pantries and on our kitchen tables. It is present in most foods we eat and some beverages we drink. It is essential for our bodies to function properly. However, it also can be dangerous, or in some cases even deadly. Recently a mother in South Carolina made headlines for killing her 17-month old daughter—using just a teaspoon of salt. For many the reaction to the story was not only shock but questions about how that was even possible. “Salt poisoning is a real thing,” says Sherrie Pace with the Utah Poison Control Center. “There are dangerous salt ingestion practices demonstrated on the Internet that some people will follow, and they don’t understand the risk”
Hypernatremia is the medical term for salt poisoning. It refers to high levels of sodium in the blood, which draws water out of the cells. The earliest and most common symptom is thirst. Other symptoms include fatigue, dry mouth, and restlessness. As the condition worsens a patient may have an increased heart rate, muscle spasms, or seizures. In severe cases coma, brain damage, or death may occur.
People with metabolic disorders are most at risk for hypernatremia. However, children also can be unwitting victims. They may get into high salt foods, like soy sauce, and consume too much. Or they may ingest a non-food item with a large amount of salt. “We have had calls where children have eaten homemade play dough,” says Pace. “That has enough salt in it to cause problems if enough is eaten.”
Another common cause of hypernatremia is when people try to make themselves vomit using salt water. They may do this due to an eating disorder, or to try and purge something from their system. The internet lists salt as an emetic to induce vomiting, which is a dangerous practice. “There are cases where someone has tried to induce vomiting to avoid poisoning,” says Pace. “However, the poison is not removed, and the salt causes additional problems even as severe as death.”
If you, or someone you know, is exhibiting symptoms of salt poisoning, or if your child has accidentally ingested a large amount of salt get help immediately. Treatments range from orally rehydration to intravenous fluids. The important thing is to get help fast. “Do not search the internet for answers. Call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately,” say Pace. “We have toxicology experts available 24 hours a day to help you assess the situation and take appropriate actions.”
6 things you thought you knew about salt that just aren’t true
Salt – it’s a natural resource found everywhere from the ocean to our tears, it’s tasty and it can be really cheap to buy. But like many things, too much salt isn’t great, especially for our health.
Because it’s linked to Australia’s biggest killer – cardiovascular disease – salt is talked about a lot in health messaging and the media. But some messages about salt need to be taken with a grain of, well, salt. We’ve busted some salt myths to make it easier for you to stay healthy.
Myth 1: All salt is out to kill you and you shouldn’t eat any of it
Eating too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure, which is linked to conditions like heart failure and heart attack, kidney problems, fluid retention, stroke and osteoporosis. You might think this should mean you need to cut out salt completely, but salt is actually an important nutrient for the human body.
Your body uses salt to balance fluids in the blood and maintain healthy blood pressure, and it is also essential for nerve and muscle function. It’s impossible to live a life without any salt (you’ll die!), but this isn’t a problem for most Australians; the average Australian is consuming double the recommended amount of salt.
So, while a little salt in your diet is necessary, it’s important to keep the amount in check. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend adults eat no more than 5 grams of salt a day, which is less than one teaspoon. Most of us are consuming about 9 grams a day. To help you track how much salt you’re eating, you can find out how much salt is in packaged foods by looking at the food label for the ‘sodium’ level – salt is made up of sodium and chloride. Try to aim for items that have less than 120mg of sodium per 100 grams of the food. You should aim for a maximum of 2000mg of sodium a day.
Myth 2: Pink/black/rock/sea/Himalayan salt is better for you than other types of salt
You might have seen some varieties of salt advertised as having extra health benefits that regular table salt doesn’t, like containing minerals that are good for your body. Consumer advocacy group CHOICE say that Australians should be wary of these kinds of health claims, as the minerals found in salts like Himalayan Sea Salt are often present only in very small amounts.
Himalayan salt, sea salt, rock salt, black salt, pink salt, unicorn salt – in the end, it’s all still salt. Upping your salt intake to try and get the benefits of an advertised mineral might lead you to consume far too much salt, putting yourself at risk of disease.
If you’re looking for a great way to get healthy minerals and other nutrients in your diet, fruits and veggies are a great source of these. Head on over to the Healthier. Happier. Colour Wheel to find out what nutrients are in your favourite fruit and veggies.
Myth 3: Some people naturally crave more salt than others
Good news for those who think they’re naturally a salt eater – the taste for salty foods is learned, rather than built in. It’s possible to retrain your taste buds to like foods with less salt in them, it’ll just take a little time.
Try these tips from Eat for Health for eating less salt:
- eat mostly fresh food instead of processed food which tend to be high in added salt
- go for packaged and canned foods labelled ‘no added salt’, ‘low salt’ or ‘salt reduced’
- compare similar packaged foods by looking at the food labels and choosing the item with less sodium
- swap deli meats like ham for canned fish (in springwater) or leftover meat from your last meal
- use small amounts of sauces with a high salt content
- flavour your cooking with a variety of herbs and spices
- avoid adding salt at the table – you could even leave the salt grinder in the cupboard.
Myth 4: You can tell that a food is salty by tasting it
Some foods with a high salt content won’t taste very salty at all. Many packaged foods that contain a lot of salt have other ingredients that balance out the salty flavour, so that the salt is effectively hidden in the food.
You can visit the Heart Foundation and VicHealth’s website Unpack The Salt to find out more about reducing hidden salts in your diet.
Myth 5: You should eat or drink more salt after working out
Salt comes out of your body in two ways – through urine and through perspiration – but that doesn’t mean you need to add extra salt to your diet every time you break a sweat.
Some products, like sports drinks, are advertised as a good way to replace lost salts after working out. Under usual circumstances, sports drinks that contain electrolytes are not necessary for rehydration – the process of replacing lost fluids and salts. Tap water and consuming a healthy diet will help replace any nutrients lost during any activity. You can read more about good hydration and how to avoid dehydration here.
Sports drinks can be used to rehydrate if you have exercised continuously for 90 minutes or more. If you’re thinking about starting a new and more strenuous exercise regime and wondering about how to rehydrate properly, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about how this might affect your health and your dietary needs.
Myth 6: If you had high blood pressure caused by too much salt, you’d be able to tell
More than 30% of Australian adults have high blood pressure, and according to the Heart Foundation, half of them don’t even know it.
Most people with high blood pressure don’t display any symptoms, so it’s important to get your blood pressure checked regularly. If you do have high blood pressure, reducing salt, along with getting regular physical activity, moderating alcohol intake, quitting smoking and reducing stress, might help manage it, reducing the risk of damage to your body.
You can find out more about blood pressure here.
More information and resources
Health Direct: Salt – the facts
Eat for Health – Salt
Unpack the Salt
Healthier. Happier. – Sodium
Nutrition Australia – Salt and Hypertension
Heart Foundation – Salt
Heart Foundation – 9 salt myths…busted!
Study: Eating Too Much Salt is Killing Us By the Millions
Iodized salt image credit: Wikipedia
If you think that all of the extra salt in processed foods might not be the best thing for our bodies, you’ll be interested to know that the latest research agrees – in spades.
According to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions, eating too much salt contributed to 2.3 million deaths from heart attacks, strokes and other heart-related diseases throughout the world in 2010, representing 15 percent of all deaths due to these causes.
Results were part of the 2010 Global Burden of Diseases Study, an international collaborative study by 488 scientists from 303 institutions in 50 countries around the world. Researchers analyzed 247 surveys of adult sodium intake, segmented by age, gender, region and country between 1990 and 2010.
According to the American Heart Association meeting report, researchers used a series of analyses to identify the role excess sodium played in the development of cardiovascular disease, defined as all diseases of the heart and blood vessels, including stroke. An “excess” level of sodium was defined as more than 1000 mg per day.
They then linked the consumption of excess sodium to cardiovascular-disease related deaths and found that nearly 1 million of these deaths – 40 percent of the total – were premature, occurring in people 69 years of age and younger.
Sixty percent of the deaths occurred in men and 40 percent were in women. Heart attacks caused 42 percent of the deaths and strokes 41 percent, with the balance resulting from other types of cardiovascular disease.
The U.S. ranked 19th out of the 30 largest countries in the study, with 429 deaths per million adults due to eating too much sodium (representing 1 in 10 U.S. deaths due to heart-related causes).
Countries with the highest death rates (per million adults) due to over consuming sodium were:
The three countries with the lowest death rates (per million adults) due to over consuming sodium were:
United Arab Emirates– 134
Not surprisingly, 84 percent of deaths due to eating too much sodium occurred in low and middle-income countries where access to fresher, less preserved foods is more difficult and prohibitively expensive.
According to the American Heart Association, a “safe” level of sodium intake for most people is less than 1,500 mg per day. How does that break down when you’re looking at descriptions on food packaging? Here’s a cheat sheet from the AHA that may help make sense of the verbiage (this is set up as “if the package label says…it generally means…”):
Sodium-free: Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving
Very low sodium: 35 milligrams or less per serving
Low sodium: 140 milligrams or less per serving
Reduced (or less) sodium: Usual sodium level is reduced by 25 percent per serving
Light (for sodium-reduced products): If the food is “low calorie,” “low fat” and sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving
Light in sodium: If sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving
According to the Mayo Clinic, the average American is dangerously above the AHA’s optimal sodium benchmark, to the tune of 3,400 mg a day — more than twice the recommended level. The vast majority of this sodium comes from processed foods, including bread, prepared dinners like pasta, meat and egg dishes, pizza, cold cuts and bacon, cheese, soups, and fast foods.
The salt we add to food doesn’t help. Consider that one tablespoon of soy sauce (15 milliliters) contains about 1000 mg of sodium. One trip to your favorite Chinese fast food restaurant is likely to double or triple your daily recommended sodium intake.
So what can we do about it? Try eating fresh foods as much as possible — easier said than done, of course, considering the price premium on these foods (there’s a reason why Whole Foods earned the nickname “Whole Paycheck”.) Nevertheless, the less processed food in our diets, the better.
And resist the urge to add salt, or salty condiments, to anything on your plate. Maybe you’ll sacrifice a little taste improvement, but the medical evidence is quite clear that your heart will be better off for it.
For more sodium-reducing tips, check out the AHA website , the Mayo Clinic, and The National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute.
Related on Forbes…
caption Salty, delicious, and okay to eat in moderation. sourceWikimedia Commons
There’s one simple ingredient that makes just about any food better: salt.
And if you look at most nutrition guidelines and dietary assessments, they usually tell us we should be eating less of the delicious substance.
But is salt really so dangerous that that everyone needs to avoid it? Maybe not – at least, there’s more debate about the topic than the blanket recommendations would make it seem.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recently published a study that found that the average American adult consumes 3,400 mg of sodium every day – well above the recommended limit of 2,300 mg, which is even lower (1,500 mg) for many people because of age, race, ethnicity, or blood pressure. (The AHA advocates for lowering the recommended limit to 1,500 mg for everyone.)
Several recent studies show, however, that many of our common assumptions about sodium intake aren’t correct in the first place. At least one study found it didn’t have much of an impact on blood pressure in healthy people, adding to existing research indicating that not everyone needs to worry too much about salt.
Most recently, a pair of studies on Russian cosmonauts found a number of characteristics about salt so surprising that Gina Kolata of the New York Times wrote they indicate our basic understanding of how salt works in the human body “may be completely wrong.” Basically, those two studies, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, indicate that salt makes people less thirsty (people may feel thirsty after eating salt, but they need to drink less) and that salt makes mice burn calories faster (making them want to eat more).
Those studies tell us that salt may not be fully understood, but they don’t necessarily tell us much about salt and blood pressure. But another study recently presented at the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting does. In that study, part of a larger study on heart health, researchers followed 2,632 men and women ranging from ages 30 to 64, all who started with normal blood pressure. After 16 years, they found that people who ate the recommended amount of sodium, less than 2,500 mg per day, had higher blood pressure on average than people who had saltier diets.
source Eliza McKelvey/Business Insider
That’s an observational study, so we can’t say that eating more salt improved people’s blood pressure – that may be due to another factor. But it’s not the only research that indicates eating more than the recommended amount of sodium isn’t necessarily harmful for people who have healthy blood pressure to start off.
In 2011, a major study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at 3,681 people that didn’t have cardiovascular problems found that higher salt consumption did raise one component of blood pressure but didn’t increase risk for hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure) and didn’t increase risk for cardiovascular problems. People who seemed to consume the least salt, based on measurements of sodium excretion, had increased cardiovascular death rates.
None of these studies are a prescription for eating more sodium. But they do indicate that people who eat more sodium than the recommended amount don’t seem to suffer from it if they aren’t already suffering from high blood pressure.
This isn’t a license to eat unlimited ramen and Doritos. Highly processed foods aren’t good for you, and we know that for people that already struggle with hypertension, which can kill you, lowering sodium intake can help.
Perhaps the most useful thing is to be aware of how much salt we’re eating in the first place. The recent AHA study found that 70% of the salt study participants consumed came from restaurant food and processed food bought in stores, while sodium naturally found in foods provided about 14.6% of sodium intake. Salt added to food being cooked at home was 5.6% of intake, while sodium added at the table accounted for 4.9%.
The easy takeaway from that study is that the most effective way to reduce sodium consumption (especially unconscious consumption) isn’t to avoid using a salt shaker, it’s limiting consumption of processed foods. That also happens to be the easiest way to improve your diet in the first place. If you’re preparing food for yourself or at least know that your food is coming from whole ingredients and isn’t largely processed, you’re probably not consuming an excessive amount of salt (though if your doctor recommends lowering intake, you should listen to them).
But in general, there’s more and more research to indicate that salt doesn’t need to be a primary concern for people who don’t have issues with blood pressure.
As Melinda Wenner Moyer wrote for Scientific American in 2011, “if the U.S. does conquer salt, what will we gain? Bland french fries, for sure. But a healthy nation? Not necessarily.”