Evidence Based
3.4 /5

The Effects of Salt On Health: Is It Actually Bad For You?

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

SelfHacked has the strictest sourcing guidelines in the health industry and we almost exclusively link to medically peer-reviewed studies, usually on PubMed. We believe that the most accurate information is found directly in the scientific source.

We are dedicated to providing the most scientifically valid, unbiased, and comprehensive information on any given topic.

Our team comprises of trained MDs, PhDs, pharmacists, qualified scientists, and certified health and wellness specialists.

Our science team goes through the strictest vetting process in the health industry and we often reject applicants who have written articles for many of the largest health websites that are deemed trustworthy. Our science team must pass long technical science tests, difficult logical reasoning and reading comprehension tests. They are continually monitored by our internal peer-review process and if we see anyone making material science errors, we don't let them write for us again.

Our goal is to not have a single piece of inaccurate information on this website. If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate, out-of-date, or otherwise questionable, please leave a comment or contact us at [email protected]

Note that each number in parentheses [1, 2, 3, etc.] is a clickable link to peer-reviewed scientific studies. A plus sign next to the number “[1+, 2+, etc...]” means that the information is found within the full scientific study rather than the abstract.

The truth about whether salt is good or bad depends on the individual. Some people need more, while others need less.

The Salt Controversy

A core problem with how we think is that we view all things as either good or bad. This thinking has led me astray in the past.

Anytime there’s a controversy or a mix of opinions, you can bet that the good/bad paradigm is especially flawed.

People should realize that something can be good in one way and bad in another.

  • It could be good for one person and bad for another.
  • It could be good in one situation and bad in another.

The reason we think in these terms is because it causes us cognitive strain (or ‘dissonance’) to believe something we’re doing can be both harmful and helpful. We want the benefits, but we don’t want the harm.

Salt is one of those things that have no clear answers but is dependent on the person and dose.

Just like with saturated fat and the controversies surrounding it, when we find out that salt isn’t as bad for us as we thought, it suddenly turns into a superfood and we start piling it on at each meal.

How Much Salt Do We Consume?

Salt consists of sodium (40%) and chloride (60%), both essential nutrients needed by your body to function.

The average sodium included in the typical US diet is between 3,400-3,840 mg/day [1, 2].

It is estimated that salt intake in paleolithic times was less than 1 g/day [3], much less than our 9.6 g/day in the average American diet [1].

In fact, an article in the Journal of Cancer Detection and Prevention observes that from Paleolithic to modern times, mans intake of potassium has significantly decreased, while sodium has significantly increased. The Sodium/Potassium ratio has been reduced by about 20X [4].

Where does our salt come from?

  • About 75% of our daily salt intake comes from processed foods [5].
  • Only 15% comes from knowingly adding salt (ie, cooking and table salt) [5].
  • The remaining 10% occurs naturally in whole foods [5].

Recommendations From The Health Establishment

Major United States health organizations advise limiting our sodium intake to under 2,300 mg per day:

  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), creator of the Food Pyramid and now the MyPlate says limit to 2,300 mg per day.
  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND)recommends 1,500 to 2,300 mg.
  • The American Diabetes Association (ADA) also says 1,500 to 2,300 mg [6].
  • The American Heart Association (AHA):1,500 mg [7].

So the establishment says to try to keep sodium under 1,500 mg per day and to never exceed 2,300 mg.

In normal, everyday measurements, that would involve aiming for less than 1 teaspoon per day.

The Bad: Potential Problems With Too Much Salt

Excess Salt May Worsen Inflammation

One concern with excess salt is that it can raise the risk of autoimmune disease by increasing Th17-related inflammation [8].

When I increased my salt intake, I noticed more issues with inflammation, but maybe only because I was susceptible to Th17 inflammation.

Salt-induced inflammation has been found to be a factor in worsening Hypertension-related tissue damage [9], Congestive Heart Failure [10], and Asthma [11].

Excess salt can raise Aldosterone, which is implicated in many chronic diseases and can contribute to inflammation [12, 13].

In particular, aldosterone increases IL-6IL-1b [14], TNF [15] and induces Nf-kB, the master control switch of inflammation [12].

However, this study found no association between higher sodium intake and systemic inflammation [16].

It may just be wise to limit salt if you have issues with Th17 inflammation or certain cancers [17].

Excess Salt May Raise Blood Pressure

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), high blood pressure is one of the most significant independent predictors of chronic disease [18].

Health professionals worldwide recommend restricting your sodium intake because it is believed to increase blood pressure, which is one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease and stroke [19].

And these are the top two causes of death in wealthier countries [20].

A 2013 Cochrane review found that in people with high blood pressure, reducing salt lowers blood pressure by 5.4 points systolic and 2.8 points diastolic. Individuals with normal blood pressure show a reduction of 2.4 and 1.0 [21].

Another study found that lowering sodium intake was more effective at reducing blood pressure in Black and Asian patients than in Whites [22].

It’s important to note that restricting salt has no direct effect on the risk of death or cardiovascular disease, even in people diagnosed with high blood pressure [23].

Studies have actually found that salt consumption does not raise your risk of heart disease or death. So there is no reason to restrict salt due to concerns over cardiovascular health or longevity [24].

It may just be wise to restrict it if your blood pressure tends to be high, and you want to keep it within normal range.

However, it’s interesting that high insulin levels are associated with high blood pressure in multiple studies.

So, maybe take a look at your carbohydrate/sugar intake first, and then consider the salt.

Most of my clients have low blood pressure, and therefore salt may benefit these people.

So when it comes to salt, your individual biology is key.

Excess Salt May Increase Your Calorie Intake

High salt intake may cause you to consume more calories (11% more) than you would otherwise [25].

Excess Salt May Cause Headaches

In a study of sodium consumption and headaches, people who ate foods high in sodium around 8 g per day had one third more headaches than those who ate foods low in sodium – around 4 g per day [26].

Additionally, it made no difference whether the volunteers ate the standard Western diet or the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet [26].

However, it could be that foods that have higher levels of salt may cause headaches. These studies do not show causation.

Excess Salt May Cause Cognitive Decline

Excessive salt intake may contribute to cognitive issues.

In an animal study, a high salt diet led to a significant decrease in the naturally occurring antioxidants and marked an increase of damaging free radicals in the memory center of the brain [27].

A high-salt diet may accelerate decline in the elderly. In a rat study, older rats who were put on a high salt diet had significant worsening of blood pressure levels, memory, anxiety, and overall cognitive health [28].

But this is only one side of the story. See Potential Problems With Too Little Salt below…

Excess Salt May Cause Kidney Stones

Those who are prone to kidney stones may need to reduce their salt intake, as high sodium excretion also leads to a higher level of calcium excretion in the urine [29].

Again, evidence on this topic is mixed, but it has been demonstrated that if you consume excess sodium, you lose more sodium and calcium in the urine [29].

Subjects who consumed the most sodium tended to lose the most calcium in the urine.

Higher calcium excretion may lead to kidney stone formation, particularly if fluid intake is inadequate.

But again, it could be the foods that are typically high in salt may increase calcium excretion.

Excess Salt May Increase Bone Loss

Because of this increased calcium excretion with higher sodium intake, those with osteoporosis may benefit from a lower salt intake as well.

Increased losses of calcium in the urine, particularly in the context of low dietary calcium, could be problematic for those at risk for low bone density.

However, high salt intake is not believed to cause osteoporosis, and the potential osteoporotic effects of high salt intake can be offset with an adequate intake of calcium and potassium.

Excess Salt May Raise Your Risk for H. Pylori Infection

Higher salt intake may make you more susceptible to H. Pylori infections, which cause ulcers and can in some cases lead to stomach cancer [30].

Excess Salt May Raise Risk for Certain Cancers

A comprehensive meta-analysis detected a strong adverse effect between total salt intake and salt-rich foods on the risk of stomach cancer in the general population [31].

These studies show an association and it doesn’t necessarily mean that salt is the problem. It could be that the types of foods which people eat with a high salt diet are the problem.

Excess Salt May Raise Your Risk for Cataracts

An observational study performed in Australia found a clear association between high sodium intake and the occurrence of cataracts, a condition of cloudy vision associated with aging [32].

An earlier study conducted in Italy also found a significant association between high salt intake. However, a higher intake of meat, cheese, and certain vegetables (cruciferous vegetables, spinach, tomatoes, peppers) was protective [33].

Excess Salt May Worsen Sleep Apnea

In a study of 97 patients, high sodium intake worsened sleep apnea if high blood pressure and high aldosterone were present [34].

The Good: Potential Problems With Too Little Salt

Too Little Sodium Can Increase Cardiovascular Stats and Risk

A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that a low sodium diet raised LDL 4.6% and triglycerides 5.9% [35].

Sodium intake of under 3 g per day was associated with increased risk of dying from Cardiovascular disease and greater chances of hospitalization for Congestive Heart Failure [36].

Too Little Sodium Worsens Insulin Resistance & Diabetes

In a study published in the Metabolism Journal, just one week on a low sodium diet caused the onset of insulin resistance in a group of healthy volunteers (37).

In Type II diabetics, restricting salt raised the risk of death from all causes, including cardiovascular disease [38].

Too Little Sodium Can Be Bad for the Brain

In a study of Dahl rats, salt restriction caused a decline in learning and memory.

So, excess salt is bad for the brain, and too little salt is also bad for the brain. It may be worth considering the role of other minerals needed for a healthy balance, such as potassium.

Too Little Sodium is Dangerous for Athletes and Those with Higher Vasopressin/Anti-Diuretic Hormone (ADH)

In athletes, a lower intake of sodium combined with a higher intake of water can cause hyponatremia (unnaturally low salt levels), which can lead to headaches, muscle cramps/weakness, or even seizures when severe [39].

If you have a condition that results in higher vasopressin/ADH release (low thyroid, low adrenal function, low pituitary, etc), you want to make sure to take in salt [40].

Inflammation and infections can increase vasopressin, so you should be mindful if your vasopressin is high or low.

You can check your Vasopressin directly and BUN as an indirect measure.

What To Do?

Overall, you should not pay attention to a blanket statement anyone makes about salt – whether they claim that it is completely good/bad or healthy/unhealthy for everyone.

If you consume a whole-food diet with lots of fruits and veggies (potassium) and use salt (sodium) to taste, you’re probably fine.

However, in some cases, more or less salt is better for you.

  • If you are healthy, then simply use salt to taste.
  • If you have chronic inflammation, figure out if that’s causing vasopressin to go up.
  • If you have an autoimmune issue that causes higher Th17 immune activation, then do experiments with higher or lower salt
  • If you have high blood pressure then it’s probably wise to use less rather than more.
  • If you are an athlete, sweating a lot, or exercising a lot in a day, then go for more salt.
  • If you have low blood pressure (under 110/70), experiment with more salt.

If you’re completely healthy and have normal blood pressure, then I see no reason to restrict salt. In this case, just consume it for optimal taste.

But in general, I think it’s one of those things that you should experiment with for yourself.

The most important thing is to pay attention to your body and ignore general recommendations.

Buy Healthy Salt

I use Himalayan salt. I like to use the powder and also the crystals with a salt shaker, which allows for more precision in the amount of salt that you want.

This section contains a sponsored link, which means that we may receive a small percentage of profit from your purchase, while the price remains the same to you. The proceeds from your purchase support our research and work. Thank you for your support.

About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen won the genetic lottery of bad genes. As a kid, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine.Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers.Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO of SelfHacked, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer.His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.
Joe has been studying health sciences for 17 years and has read over 30,000 PubMed articles. He's given consultations to over 1000 people who have sought his health advice. After completing the pre-med requirements at university, he founded SelfHacked because he wanted to make a big impact in improving global health. He's written hundreds of science posts, multiple books on improving health, and speaks at various health conferences. He's keen on building a brain-trust of top scientists who will improve the level of accuracy of health content on the web. He's also founded SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, popular genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

Click here to subscribe


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars
(5 votes, average: 3.40 out of 5)

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.