Diet

Salt (Sodium), Cardiovascular Health, & Lupus

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#LupusWarriors are already predisposed to heart disease because of inflammation and stress. Sodium contributes to high blood pressure, but it also might be an environmental influencer of autoimmunity.

Every living being on the planet needs salt. It’s essential for proper bodily function. (In fact, civilizations were built on salt—Salzburg, Austria was one of the largest places in mainland Europe that contained salt beds.) Today though, sodium is packed in foods that are not nutrient-dense and highly processed.

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Salt and Lupus

Used in the medical sense, immunity is a balanced state of the body. If it has too little immunity, the body is more prone to developing infections and other unwanted biological invaders; if it has too much immunity, the body attacks its own healthy tissues. Slightest influences on the immune system can have drastic effects.

Researchers are just beginning to explore the correlation between the over-use of salt and sodium in the diet and autoimmune conditions. Two studies advance the concept of salt being linked to an array of autoimmune conditions including inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.

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More specifically, increasing salt creates more TH17 cells. In high-salt conditions, lab results have shown a higher expression of the protein SGK1. This protein signals the body to produce TH17 cells. TH17 cells are generally considered to be pro-inflammatory and fight infection by mobilizing neutrophils and macrophages to infected tissues.

As stated previously, the body walks a thin line between not having enough immunity and having too much. Even with these recent findings, there still needs to be more conclusive evidence whether salt contributes to autoimmunity. Considering the other medical conditions salt causes, #LupusWarriorrs should discuss low-sodium diets with their lupus treatment team.

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Salt and Cardiovascular Disease

#LupusWarriors are already predisposed to cardiovascular disease because of the stress. A high-sodium diet is also linked to high blood pressure. #LupusWarriors should be mindful of not compounding different factors of hypertension.

Are There Benefits to Salt

Under certain circumstances, salt is actually life-saving. There is a reason it is used to treat dehydration—it regulates and balances water in the body. Salt facilitates sending signals to our nerves and muscles and helps sustain the fluid content inside and outside the blood cells.

Oral Rehydration Salts and solutions such as Gatorade were invented to prevent the body from being dehydrated while balancing electrolytes. In some individuals, even mild dehydration can lead to difficulty with mental tasks and causes fatigue, tension, and anxiety.

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A Balanced Diet with Salt—Not Sodium

Is salt the same thing as sodium? Not exactly. Sodium is a naturally occurring mineral that is in foods like celery, beets, and milk. It’s also very common in processed foods. Table salt, known by it’s chemical name, is NaCl for sodium chloride. It is roughly 40% sodium. Check out this article from the American Heart Association to learn more about the differences between the two.

There needs to be more evidence in proving salt is an environmental trigger for autoimmune disease. This hypothesis is founded in countries or groups of people that eat modernized or industrialized diets. “Junk food” or any type of overly processed foods do contain a high amount of sodium, but it also contains other ingredients that are not healthy for the body.

The body naturally craves salt. When eating a whole foods diet, most people get their fill of salt from just 1.5 to 3 teaspoons per day, which has a very low hypertension risk associated with it. The DASH diet is a great guide for low-sodium intake. And as always, make sure there is plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean meats and proteins, and unprocessed grains for a healthy, balanced dietary regimen.

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