Human beings consume sodium in the form of sodium chloride. The scientific name of common salt is sodium chloride. This alkaline element is very essential for life, as it is present in the extra-cellular fluids. It is also present in bones, saliva, and enzymes. Sodium or 'Na' is the predominant cation in the extra-cellular fluid. It works along with potassium, which is another important cation present in the intracellular fluids.
Sodium plays an important role in body water distribution. It helps maintain blood pressure and acid-base balance. It is needed to stimulate muscle contraction, as it is the major component of nerves. Calcium and other minerals are kept in soluble form due to sodium. It also stimulates adrenal glands and helps prevent heat strokes. Sodium along with chloride and bicarbonate maintains the balance of electrically charged particles in the fluids and tissues.
Sources of Sodium
Sodium is found in foods that we consume, the major source being the common table salt, that we use as seasoning for our foods. The other sources of food are soy sauce, pickles, olives, and sauerkraut. You even get salt from salty meats, fish, salted snacks, bouillon cubes, processed cheese, instant soups, and noodles, etc. In the natural food groups, vegetables like dry lotus stems, leafy vegetables, pulses, and legumes are foods high in sodium. The mineral is also present in shellfish, carrots, beets, celery, milk, artichokes, dried beef, brains, kidney, and bacon.
Uses of Sodium
- Muscles and nerves work properly when they get adequate amount of sodium through diet.
- With the help of sodium, the body controls blood pressure and blood volume.
- It is used in the treatment of diarrhea, muscle cramps, dehydration, and fever due to its property of holding water in the body tissues.
- Sodium helps in nerve transmission and muscle contraction that includes beating of the heart.
- It maintains a balance of positive and negative ions in the body fluid and tissues.
What is Hyponatremia?
Hyponatremia is a medical term used to describe deficiency of sodium. When the body's balance of electrolytes becomes unstable, the person suffers from hyponatremia. This situation arises if there is too much fluid in the body, as the fluid leads to dilution of sodium, or if the sodium levels are too low in the body. Excessive diarrhea or vomiting can lead to sodium deficiency. Edema or excessive fluid build-up can also cause hyponatremia. In disorders like congestive heart failure and kidney failure, the body often retains more fluid, and thus, sodium gets diluted.
Heavy perspiration can lead to reduction of body fluids and sodium. This can hamper normal body functions. The body of a person suffering from the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone (SIADH) produces too much antidiuretic hormone (ADH). This leads to retention of water in the body and eventually to sodium deficiency. Certain drugs as well as certain conditions can stimulate the release of antidiuretic hormone from the pituitary gland. Certain medical conditions like hypothyroidism, cirrhosis of the liver, and anorexia can result in low blood sodium levels.
Symptoms of Sodium Deficiency
The symptoms include feelings of weakness, apathy, nausea, and cramps in the muscles of the extremities. The person may experience muscle twitching and seizures. The deficiency, in very rare cases, may lead to shock due to extremely low blood pressure. As the brain is particularly sensitive to sodium, the other symptoms are neurological, such as confusion, sluggishness, loss of reflexive movement, convulsions, or even coma and death. Older people are more likely to have severe symptoms.
Just adding a spoonful of table salt to a dish cannot help raise blood sodium levels. The doctor needs to find out the exact reason behind the mineral deficiency. If it is kidney failure, heart failure, or SIADH, the doctor has to design the course of treatment accordingly. The deficiency treatment includes intravenous saline, water restriction, and administration of diuretics. The person suffering from deficiency is monitored, as rapid stabilization may lead to heart failure. Sodium deficiency is commonly seen in marathon runners or distance athletes. As they keep drinking water while running, their body level of fluids increase leading to dilution of sodium. This condition is also called water intoxication. Thus, they are advised to drink sports drinks, sports gels, or other electrolyte replacement supplements.
Daily Requirement of Sodium
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), and American Diabetes Association (ADA), one should consume less than 1500 mg of sodium (3/4 teaspoon or 3.75 grams of salt) per day. Generally, everyone consumes more sodium than the recommended amount. So, they also suggest that daily consumption of sodium should not be more than 2300 mg. (one teaspoon or 6 grams of salt). While the minimum intake of sodium chloride or NaCl is 3-4 grams, an average person consumes 8-10 grams of NaCl or even more.
Therefore, sodium deficiency is a rare disorder that affects a person in extreme cases or conditions only. One should follow a healthy diet, and consume healthy foods and drinks to avoid any form of deficiency related illnesses.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.