Can a High-Salt Diet Alter the Gut Microbiome?
We’ve been hearing for years that we should be watching our sodium intake. It may make food tastier, but given that it’s correlated with cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure, kidney issues and other immune system related diseases, it’s important to take a deeper look at the long-term health consequences to understand how to make adjustments to our dietary choices in order to live a vibrant and healthy lifestyle!
What is Sodium and Why is it Important?
Sodium is a natural mineral found in salt. It’s required by the body to control blood pressure, along with supporting the function of nerve and muscle fibres. Although it is required to help the body function and can be helpful for people with low blood pressure, it is also a mineral that we tend to consume in excess.
With the aim being a daily recommended sodium intake of about 1 500 mg, and not exceed 2 300 mg per day, (which is the equivalent of just over one teaspoon of salt), most North Americans are consuming more than double that . While salt is naturally present in many whole foods, the amounts are negligible when it comes to reaching daily intake levels. Generally, it is the reliance on high-sodium prepackaged, on prepared, and on restaurant foods that are causing the overconsumption and in turn, leading to poor health outcomes.
Health Risks Related to High-Salt Diet
No matter your age, given the severity of the health conditions related to sodium, it’s important to understand your risk factors. If you’re overweight, have a family history of high blood pressure or don’t exercise, risks tend to be higher. Afflicting more than 1 billion worldwide , blood pressure levels are seen to be rising steadily with age in both men and women. The common explanation of the increasing prevalence relating to salt consumption lies in the diet.
We’ve seen research over the past several years demonstrating multiple ways the microbial communities that live inside our intestines may be influenced. We know diet plays a huge role, in addition to lifestyle stressors, infections, genetics as well as medical interventions (including antibiotics) . We also know that due to these factors, when there is an upset in the balance of good probiotic bacteria compared to the pathogenic bacteria, the potential for a state of ‘dysbiosis’ exists. This imbalanced state of the gut bacteria can very well act as a catalyst to several health issues, extending beyond the digestive system and resulting in serious, chronic inflammatory and immune-related issues.
Salt & the Gut Microbiome
What’s novel here with the discussion of gut health in relation to diet, is the emerging data showcasing the correlation between the microbial composition of the gut and its link to cardiovascular disease, including hypertension. Although we’ve known for a long time that overconsumption of dietary salt is linked to high blood pressure and kidney injury, new studies are beginning to shed light on the underlying mechanism behind the associations .
Research recently published shows that a high-salt diet does, in fact, alter the gut microbiota and that these alterations may be associated with high blood pressure and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis in both mice and humans. The study, which fed one group of mice a high-salt (sodium chloride) diet while the other ate a normal amount of salt, showed findings that one particular type of bacteria called Lactobacillus was wiped out with the high-salt diet. This decrease in bacteria thereby increased risk factors for the disease by influencing the numbers and the type of immune cells (TH17 cells) involved in the activation of inflammation.
Can Probiotics Help Restore Balance?
What’s so powerful from this research is the reinforcement of the understanding that we have incredible power to influence our health outcomes through our dietary and lifestyle choices. One such choice is to include foods and supplementation of the beneficial bacteria that help to promote a healthy microbiome, thereby improving the other systems within the body.
When you choose to eat fermented foods (such as miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha) or supplement with a probiotic formulation which contains species such as Lactobacillus, you’re helping to create an environment within the microbiome that offers protection against specific diseases. However, when choosing a probiotic, it’s important to use strains that work in symbiosis with each other to re-balance the gut, as well as to look for formulas that have peer-reviewed clinical studies showing evidence of effectiveness in human health.
When it comes to salt and a healthy gut, along with adding in the good bacteria from food and a supplement, the other side of the puzzle reflects the ability to shake any bad habits related to overconsumption. Choosing to use more herbs and spices in place of salt, eating less processed and restaurant food as well as paying attention to food labels are all good places to start. Of course, visiting a specialist to discuss your health, exercising, drinking water and managing stress levels are always part of a good foundation for health as well!
The new findings about salt remind us that what we eat directly influences our gut microbiome, and in turn, our risk factors for different diseases. Taking the steps to learn more about your diet and gut health, along with taking the actions to increase probiotics intake and reduce sodium, will no doubt help to encourage a healthy lifestyle!
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