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The American diet is high in salt, which is comprised of sodium and chloride. Though sodium is needed by the body as an electrolyte, a charged element important for electrical conduction and fluid distribution, too much is harmful. The rationale for a low-sodium diet includes reduced risks of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and kidney damage.
Sodium is required for normal muscle function, nerve communication and blood pressure. However, sodium has to be carefully regulated in the body -- too much upsets the balance. The American diet is particularly high in sodium because salt is commonly added to processed and packaged foods. According to the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, the average American consumes at least 5 teaspoons of salt daily, which is about 20 times more than the body requires. In general, healthy adults should limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams daily -- or approximately 1/4 teaspoon of table salt. Anyone who has risk factors such as high blood pressure or kidney disease should limit themselves to 1,500 milligrams of sodium. The goal of most low-sodium diets for healthy adults is consuming less than 2,000 milligrams of sodium daily.
Hypertension and Heart Disease
One of the main reasons for limiting the amount of sodium in your diet is to reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Too much sodium in the blood pulls water out of cells, which increases blood volume and pressure. Hypertension can injure the insides of blood vessels and overload the heart, which increases the risk for stroke and heart attack. According to a 2004 review article published in вЂњAmerican Family Physician,вЂќ research indicates that sodium-restricted diets significantly reduce blood pressure -- especially in blacks -- but the diets do not appear correlated to reduced morbidity from cardiovascular disease. Reducing blood pressure also allows patients to discontinue their anti-hypertensive medications, which have numerous side effects.
Progression of Kidney Disease
The kidneys help regulate sodium and water in the body, so kidney disease also influences the development of hypertension. Low-sodium diets are commonly recommended to patients with kidney disease because they are unable to cope with excess amounts. According to a 2007 article published in the journal вЂњContributions to Nephrology,вЂќ progression of chronic kidney disease is influenced by salt consumption; thus, reducing sodium intake can help slow disease progression. Furthermore, the researchers note that some people are more sensitive to salt/sodium due to genetic factors, which can increase their risk of hypertension and kidney disease.
Reduced Risk of Osteoporosis
Another reason to adopt a low-sodium diet may be reduced risk of osteoporosis -- a bone disease that involves progressive loss of minerals and bone strength. According to a study published in a 2005 issue of the вЂњJournal of Bone and Mineral Metabolism,вЂќ a low-sodium diet -- up to a maximum of 2,000 milligrams daily -- positively impacts bone turnover and may be beneficial for skeletal health in postmenopausal women. Osteoporosis greatly increases the risk of bone fractures, particularly in the spine and hips, and is most common in postmenopausal women due to hormonal changes.