A new study published in Cardiovascular Research links diets high in sodium with elevated stress.
While the negative impacts of high-sodium diets on cardiovascular health are well-established, the University of Edinburgh and Erasmus University Rotterdam researchers said their goal was to investigate the less-studied effects of high sodium consumption on cognitive function and behavior.
We know that eating too much salt damages our heart, blood vessels and kidneys. This study not tells us that high salt in our food also changes the way our brain handles stress.
They found that mice fed a high-salt diet experienced an increase in resting and environmental stress hormones compared to mice eating their ordinary diet, which is low in salt.
Furthermore, mice consuming a high-salt diet had double the hormonal response to environmental stressors than mice following their regular diet.See Also:Health News
The researchers concluded that salt intake stimulated the activity of the genes that produce the proteins in the brain that control how the body responds to stress.
After two weeks of following the high-salt diet, they also detected a reduced ability for the mice to suppress the activated stress hormones naturally.
In turn, this reduced ability to naturally suppress the stress hormones resulted in increased exposure to the hippocampus, anterior pituitary and liver, which researchers hypothesized may contribute to the long-term health consequences of high salt intake.
The researchers hope the findings of this study will encourage policymakers to emphasize low-sodium diets and persuade food manufacturers to cut the amount of sodium used in processed foods.
Recommended salt intake for adults is less than six grams each day. However, many people regularly consume at least nine grams.
While the Cleveland Clinic, a leading research and teaching hospital, advises people trying to reduce sodium intake to cut out table olives, the American Heart Association recommends the Mediterranean diet for people looking to reduce salt consumption.
“We are what we eat, and understanding how high-salt food changes our mental health is an important step to improving wellbeing,” Matthew Bailey, a renal physiology professor at the University of Edinburgh, told Food Navigator.
“We know that eating too much salt damages our heart, blood vessels and kidneys,” he added. “This study tells us that high salt in our food also changes the way our brain handles stress.”
Further studies are underway to determine whether high salt intake may result in other behavioral changes, including increased anxiety and aggression.