What Does Salt Do to the Body?

I’ve examined what happens when one adds salt to boiling water. The body is a bunch of water that is best left unboiled. What does the body do with salt?

If you are a cardiac patient, you might be told to cut your salt intake because you retain fluid–yet drinks like Gatorade have lots of salt which one might think would work opposite of quenching thirst. After all, saltwater from the sea is no good for drinking–it dehydrates those who try to consume it.

Technically, it is sodium that the body requires. The body uses sodium mainly electrically–that is that sodium has an electrical charge and the body uses that electrical charge for various bodily function. Sodium was the natural choice probably because it dissolves easily in water–and because it is abundant in nature. The body doesn’t make any sodium–it must be consumed.

As one might infer, if a cell is using the electrical properties of sodium in order to maintain a balance, losing large amounts of sodium is going to disturb that balance–the cell will not be able to function as it should. On the other hand, if one has too much sodium, then that is also out of balance causing other predicaments.

If one sweats, one is excreting water. This water loss contains sodium. Hence, when an athlete drinks Gatorade, he is attempting to quench his thirst AND replace lost salts. Hence, the drink quenches his thirst because the “right” amount of salt is present such that it is not dehydrating.

Gatorade Dump

I Bet He Feels Assaulted. Get it? "Assaulted!"

In the case of our cardiac patient, salt is correlated with hypertension or high blood pressure. One theory is that the increased salt encourages the body to hang on to more water to keep the salt and water in balance. Another theory is that the salt itself being in such high concentration invades cells and messes up the delicate electrical balance necessary for a functioning body. If one isn’t sweating, the main regulator of excreting salt is the kidneys. Perhaps there is some other mechanism where high levels of salt are present that tells the kidneys to eliminate less water. More water means more pumping for the human heart just as more weight would mean more pumping. So in the case of a cardiac patient, it is advisable to reduce salt because of the need to reduce water and therefore reduce strain on an already weak heart.

Salt in water is a good conductor of electricity. I once owned a saltwater tank and had one of the glass thermometers break while the thermometer remained plugged in the wall. Without thinking, I instinctively reached my hand into the tank to pull the thermometer out to stop the “baking” smell. I got a noticeable  jolt as the water made an excellent medium for the electricity to flow. At a very high level, our bodies are not significantly different–they are vertical aquariums with carefully rigged electrical lines we refer to as a nervous system. In my ordeal, the salt tank upset the concentration of the salt in the tank of my body–not something I’d recommend.

One question that remains is why consuming sea water is dehydrating. It has to be that the concentration of salt to water is simply too high. This is in fact the case as it is roughly equal to the body–although if you find yourself at sea this fellow recommends a salt-water enema or swimming in the sea to let osmosis rehydrate you to some extent. Your ass will be salty, but I guess you’ll be alive.

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  • michelle

    ever sprinkle salt on a slug?

    • Joe Bill Schirtzinger

      Yes, they love it.