Are you energised and happily productive?
Or are you struggling with brain fog, memory lapses and lack of focus? If so, here’s a dietary tip that could help: did you know, the one mineral that’s indispensable in helping us to think straight is good quality salt?
We spoke to health coach and nutritionist Jacqui Niehaus, who shared 4 little-known biological facts about the way your brain depends on salt (sodium chloride) to function optimally. Jacqui, who has a Master’s Degree in Biostatistics and an advanced diploma in nutritional therapy, gave us a simple yet elegant tutorial on salt and its impact on brain health. If you’re interested in enhancing your productivity and mental clarity, you’ll want to know this:
1. Your nervous system needs salt
Just like potassium, magnesium and calcium, sodium is an electrolyte, and electrolytes are important for regulating your nervous system. Their job is to carry electrical charges between your cells and so facilitate the transmission of nerve impulses. Brain neurons depends on electrolytes to communicate efficiently, but without sodium, your brain simply can’t initiate the electrical impulses your nerve cells need to transmit information to each other. Without optimised neural pathways, it’s all a bit murky and your thinking can’t go anywhere. Brain fog.
Electrolytes also help to regulate fluid balance in the body – and sodium in particular, plays a key role in maintaining cerebral fluid balance. One of the consequences of hyponatremia (too little sodium concentration in the blood) is cerebral oedema where the brain swells with water. Making sure you take in enough electrolytes, especially sodium, supports your nervous system, which in turn affects your ability to focus.
2. Salt and adrenaline
Your body is an exquisitely tuned organism that constantly strives to maintain chemical balance. When the body senses there’s too little sodium in your system, your adrenals receive the instruction to produce a hormone called aldosterone. Aldosterone’s function is to make sure your body retains sodium however this comes at the cost of the increased synthesis of stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenalin.
The emotional tension many people feel when they crave salt is, in some cases, the result of increased adrenaline, which keeps us trapped in an anxious and jittery state. When our body shifts into a flight-or-fight mode due to an adrenaline rush, it becomes much harder to think clearly. You can’t think creatively in an expanded way, if your body is in a state of fear.
3. Salt prevents magnesium loss
As we learned in the previous point, if we are low on salt, the hormone aldosterone helps the body retain sodium by preventing loss through urine and sweat. However, it achieves this at a cost: an increased loss of magnesium. Magnesium is crucial for brain health because it’s needed in the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin (key for regulating mood) and dopamine (assists with short-term memory and promotes feelings of motivation and satisfaction) and we need those feel-good emotions to think clearly.
4. Salt, blood pressure and potassium
One of salt’s major functions is to regulate blood volume and pressure. Low blood pressure can make you feel disconnected, faint or spaced out which will of course impact your mental acuity.
One of the most contentious health issues around salt is that we’re told excess salt can increase hypertension thereby contributing to heart disease, strokes and kidney disease. Rather than reducing your consumption of salt, it’s a wiser approach to ensure an adequate intake of potassium (more than 3g a day) as it helps to regulate blood pressure levels.
All of which is to say, you can’t be productive, creative and think clearly without salt. And it has to be the right, good quality salt. Unpolluted, pure and unprocessed.
How much salt is enough? Jacqui says we should be guided by our taste buds; in other words, eat salt when your body is asking for it. This is because we have a stronger desire to eat salty foods when we have low sodium, and vice versa. Sally Fallon Morrel, in her article Salt Of The Earth, tells us that western people today consume about half the amount of salt they used to consume traditionally, as before the days of refrigeration, most of our meat and fish was preserved by salting it. The Japanese, who have one of the highest salt intakes in the world, also have the highest life expectancy.
A 2011 study found that an intake of between 4 and 6 grams of sodium each day was associated with the lowest risk of cardiovascular incidents That’s about a teaspoon of salt. Of course salt has many other health benefits, but when it comes to eating salt to support brain power, it really is a no-brainer.
 B. Lindemann, “Sodium taste,” Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension, vol. 6, no. 5. 1997, doi: 10.1097/00041552-199709000-00003.
 M. J. O’Donnell et al., “Urinary sodium and potassium excretion and risk of cardiovascular events,” JAMA - J. Am. Med. Assoc., vol. 306, no. 20, 2011, doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.1729.
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