One of the ladies recently sent me an article on salt and autoimmune diseases and it struck me how important it is to give this 'flavour enhancing' mineral a little more consideration. I have to admit that I LOVE salt! It adds a huge dose of flavour and yumminess to raw and vegan meals that would otherwise be a little bland. I can't even think of having a salad without a little herb or himalayan salt sprinkled over!
In the past I have definitely overdosed a bit on these little white crystals. My husband was often horrified at how salty my porridge tasted and just couldn't stomach it. I, on the other hand was grossed out by his tasteless porridge. Yes, I was a bit addicted to salt and felt a bit insecure if I was eating my meal and didn't have the salt cellar right next to me - just in case the flavour needed a slight adjustment! I realise, in hind site that this was an unhealthy habit. It was, perhaps, as unhealthy as eating too much sugar.
I have come to understand, firstly, that too much salt can cause quite a few health issues. Secondly, I have discovered that not all salts are created equal. Refined and processed table salt, in my opinion, should actually be banned from human consumption because it is just too easy to overdose on it. It's in almost everything! Luckily there are some much healthier alternatives that taste just as good, if not better than the usual table salt. We'll be discussing those a bit later on. Firstly, let's briefly delve into the problems associated with eating too much refined salt.
Yes, we're talking about the cheap table salt that sits on your kitchen table every day - that you use for all your cooking and baking. It is also present, in high quantities, in ready meals, biscuits, take out meals and snacks (even those purported to be healthy). It is a lifeless mineral that has been stripped of every last morsel of goodness through the process of extracting it and making it look edible. To achieve its perfect white colour, refined salt is also bleached. The bleaching process is highly toxic. That, in itself, is a huge reason to never put it near your body again. Salt is mainly composed of sodium and chloride which our bodies are not designed to process. It has no nutritional value and so most of it just gets lumped into fat cells for storage. This causes water retention, weight gain and a host of other problems:
High Blood Pressure
When you consume more salt than your kidneys can excrete, it will start to accumulate in your blood, leading to water retention and an increase in blood volume. As your blood volume rises, your heart must work harder to keep your blood pumping, and this increases pressure in your arteries, potentially leading to high blood pressure and heart problems. This is definitely not what we want!
Too much refined salt will also cause our blood ph to become acidic which promotes inflammation and creates a ripe environment for disease to flourish. The scariest thing is that scientists are now discovering that refined salt could be one of the perpetuators of MS and other auto-immune diseases.
Current guidelines are to consume a maximum of one teaspoon of refined sodium every day. This includes salt that has already been added to food products. This is set to be lowered even more.
Can Refined Salt Worsen MS?
There is some compelling research to suggest that this may be true. A 2014 Argentinian study conducted research on the connection between salt and MS with 70 people who had RRMS. The study followed and assessed the participants over a period of two years. The researchers also studied a second group of 52 people with RRMS, which were only assessed over a one month period to compare and check the results of the study on the first group. The groups were divided into three further subgroups based on their salt intake. Low-salt was for those consuming less than 2g a day, medium consumed between 2g and 4.8g a day and the high-salt group was those who consumed more than 4.8g of salt a day. Routine MRI's were conducted to note any changes in their CNS.
After taking into account age, gender, disease duration, drug treatment, vitamin D levels, BMI and smoking status, the study found a correlation between salt intake and increased disease activity. Those participants who consumed a high level of salt had more relapses, more lesions on their brain scans and were also at increased risk of developing further new lesions, than those participants who consumed a low level of salt. These results do not prove that salt worsens MS. It does, however, show us that there is a relationship between salt intake and worsening MS symptoms.
The Mechanism Behind This
So, what how does salt worsen MS? Sodium seems to have a detrimental affect on the immune system. A research team from Yale University studied the role of T helper cells in the body. These immune cells activate and 'help' other cells to fight dangerous pathogens such as bacteria or viruses and battle infections. The researchers found that a subset of these cells, the T17 cells are to blame for auto-immune activity. One recent study has discovered that exposing these cells to a table salt solution made them act more 'aggressively.'
The scientists also found that mice fed a diet high in refined salts saw a dramatic increase in the number of Th17 cells in their nervous systems. This caused an inflammatory response. These mice were also more likely to develop symptoms, very much, akin to MS. Laboratory tests revealed that refined salt exposure increased the levels of cytokines released by Th17 cells 10 times more than usual. Cytokines are proteins used to pass messages between cells. It's almost as if the communication between these cells went from orderly to completely chaotic so that they couldn't understand each other and receive essential feedback. The result is, out of control T helper cells that start behaving badly and attacking healthy nerve tissue.
After reading this, I never want to eat refined salt ever again! Thank goodness there are a few fantastic alternatives we can turn to, to keep our food flavoursome!
Salt is actually essential for our health but, it must be in the right form to do what it's supposed to do. It should not be overlooked that sodium is a nutrient your body needs to function properly. Salt helps with the following essential functions:
- Maintains the balance of fluids in your body
- Helps with transmission of nerve impulses
- Helps with contraction and relaxation of muscles
Three natural salts I would like to mention in this post are Himalayan rock salt, Celtic Salt and Sea Salt. These salts have not been processed and are jam packed with essential minerals. They are also cheap and easily obtainable in supermarkets and health shops. Their taste is slightly less strong than table salt but is far more flavoursome. Let's have a brief look at each of them individually.
Himalayan rock salt
This lovely, rose-coloured salt is mined in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in Pakistan. It contains an almost identical set of elements to those in our body - in the same proportions as occur in our blood. Himalayan salt contains 84 minerals in total. In addition to sodium, this salt is relatively high in iron, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, potassium and chloride. It also contains traces of boron, fluoride, iodine, zinc, selenium and copper, all of which are necessary for bodily health. Wow, what a list! It also tastes amazing. Sprinkle a few crystals over your salad or roasted veg and you have yourself a delicious meal. I highly recommend it.
Celtic salt is grey in colour and has a rough texture. It is a unique salt as it is only harvested off the northwest coast of France. Celtic sea salt is a little less salty-tasting than table salt or other sea salts. It is found in clay ponds that are built near the shore -- as the saltwater evaporates, a mineral-rich sea salt is left behind. Like Himalayan salt, Celtic sea salt contains 84 different live elements that are commonly found in sea water. Some of these are magnesium, iron, manganese, zinc, iodine and potassium.
Sea salt is probably the most common of the unprocessed salts and is remarkably different to table salt. Do a taste test and compare table salt to sea salt. I'm sure you'll discover that the table salt tastes like chemicals and the sea salt, like the ocean. It really is a lovely flavour. Sea salt has many benefits. It can help strengthen your immune system and keep your heart healthy. However, the benefit that stood out the most for me was the fact that it has an alkalising effect on your body. This means that it is anti-inflammatory and will actually help your body stay disease free. Don't go overboard now! It still needs to be eaten in moderation.
Summing it up
The importance of natural salts has been completely underrated in my opinion. However, more and more people are becoming aware of their incredible benefits and making the switch. Here is an amazing example of some forward thinkers: At Wieliczka in Poland, a hospital has been carved into a salt mountain. Asthmatics and patients with lung disease and allergies find that breathing air in the saline underground chambers helps improve symptoms in 90 per cent of cases. How amazing is this? As for table salt - give it the boot! There are far healthier options to choose. Luckily the MS diet does not include many of the foods that are high in refined salt such as cheese, smoked meat and gluten-filled baked goods. This should help you to be able to keep your sodium intake to a minimum.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this important topic so drop me a line!
P.S. I also just wanted to let you know that I'll finally be launching my new resource, 'Boost' - on Wednesday the 28th January (that's next week!). It is a weekly tool to help keep you on track with your MS diet. It mixes recipes with lifestyle advice and so much more! I'm so excited to share it with you and I hope that you will feel motivated and inspired by all it has to offer you. Watch this space!