Springfield doctor: A love affair with salt can be dangerous

Shockingly bad news is buried in the recent article in the New York Times on salt which most people who contacted me interpreted to mean that they don’t have to watch salt in their diet.

Closer review of the article reveals a link between table salt and diabetes, a clue I have been searching for at least a decade. I have been concerned about the close association between high blood pressure and adult onset diabetes (type II diabetes). I have noticed that diabetes often develops in someone a few years after the diagnosis of high blood pressure. Yes indeed, diabetes, which affects the human body from head to toe and every organ system in between and is one of the most disabling and deadly diseases, can now be tied to our salt habit.

Q&A WITH DR. NERAVETLA: I love Springfield

Those who have been finding excuses to continue their love affair with table salt must now pay even closer attention. Most people who don’t want to cut back on table salt often say, “there is no fun in eating with less salt.” Just remember, once you are diagnosed with diabetes, how much quantity you eat, what type of food you eat and how often you eat are all controlled by diabetes. You cannot eat what you are craving and have to eat what you really don’t care to eat. At the same time, you are taking more and more pills, dealing with the cost and side effects. That certainly takes away a lot of fun and enjoyment, doesn’t it? You would want to avoid diabetes if there is any way possible.

Pioneering research by Dr. Jens Titze, a kidney specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Erlangen, Germany, reveals a new way how humans and other animals produce water from within to compensate for salt intake.

Normally when you eat something salty, you go for water. However, Dr. Titze reported, based on his research on Russian cosmonauts and mice in the labs, that the more was salt added to food, the less water they drank. Yet they still produced more urine to compensate for excess salt.

A second finding: The cosmonauts were hungrier and mice ate 25 percent more food on a high salt diet. This was despite getting the same amount of calories and nutrients.

Third finding: There is increased production of glucocorticoid hormones with increase in salt intake. As quoted by Dr. Titze himself, excess glucocorticoid production is linked to osteoporosis, muscle loss, many metabolic problems and yes … Type 2 diabetes.

How do we put this all together?

Very simply, when you eat more salt, you have to somehow compensate for it with more water. Humans and other animals can and do produce water by breaking down glucose, fat and muscle.

Glucose combines with oxygen to produce energy needed to run our body. In this reaction facilitated by special hormones, carbon dioxide and water are produced.

Having more water to compensate for excess salt does save the day. As quoted by Dr. Mark Ziedel, a noted nephrologist from Harvard Medical School, a camel survives the travel in the desert without water by breaking down the fat in its hump. There is no actual water in the camel’s hump, in case you believed the old Arabian tales where the traveler cuts off the camel hump to quench his thirst.

So, in order to make more water, the body produces more special hormones (glucocorticoids) to help break down the glucose into water. In this process, for one thing, more glucose is consumed. On a long-term basis, just as the kidney exhausts its ability to make up for the constant intake of table salt leading to high blood pressure, the glucose control mechanisms also get exhausted, leading to diabetes.

With the discovery of this link between table salt and diabetes, we need to step up the awareness of dangers of table salt. Our body does need sodium, but don’t confuse sodium with table salt. We need to get the sodium required from natural sources like fruits and nuts. No good can come from adding table salt to our food. After decades of debate and discussions, we have finally come to a consensus that “tobacco smoke does not belong in the air we breathe.” In the same way, we need to come to grips with the understanding that “table salt does not belong in the food we consume.”

Dr. Surender R. Neravetla is the director of cardiac surgery at Springfield Regional Medical Center. Dr. Neravetla has written books about the dangers of salt, including “Salt Kills” and “Salt: Black America’s Silent Killer.”

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