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The Official Newsletter of
updated March 4, 2019

Salt is Poisonous

by Ron Brown, Ph.D., B.Sc. Dietetics, author of The Body Fat Guide 

"Ron Brown is a certified fitness trainer who doesn't have an inch of flab on his body. He'll tell you what you can do to become fit and trim too." 
Washington DC


SALT is the common name for sodium chloride or table salt. We hear much today about the need to reduce our salt intake in order to improve our health, especially to reduce hypertension in "salt-sensitive" people. But as more people begin to accept the idea that too much salt is unhealthy, the belief persists even among healthcare professionals that the human body requires some daily salt intake for health. This belief is false and dangerous, as this article will explain. Although the human body requires sodium as a micronutrient, which is available naturally in sufficient amounts in unsalted food, it has no need for any sodium chloride whatsoever. Salt is not a nutrient—it is a drug that poisons the body!

Approximately 80% of our salt consumption comes from sodium chloride added to our food by manufacturers before it even reaches our table. Sodium chloride contains two elements, sodium and chlorine. There are many poisonous drugs that also contain sodium, such as sodium fluoroacetate (rat poison), sodium hydroxide (lye), and sodium hypochlorite (bleach). Fortunately, we are not in the habit of sprinkling our food with these poisons in order to provide our body with needed sodium. Unfortunately, we make an exception with sodium chloride. As a drug, sodium chloride is also poisonous to the body, but because this drug has been used as an antibiotic for centuries to preserve food, we have grown accustomed to its use.

Sodium chloride is an ionic compound that is synthesized when oppositely charged atoms or ions of sodium and chloride join together through an electrostatic ionic bond. More ionic bonds are formed as additional sodium ions and chloride ions attach to sodium chloride, building up a salt crystal lattice. When this sodium chloride crystal dissolves in water, the ionic bonds in the lattice are broken apart by water molecules, releasing the positively-charged sodium ions and negatively-charged chloride ions. These released ions retain their opposite charges and continue to attract each other as constituents of sodium chloride's chemical structure, but in an aqueous state. Similarly, water may change to an aqueous state (liquid), crystallized state (ice) or vaporized state (steam), but it still retains its chemical structure as water. 

The body needs a continuous supply of sodium ions and chloride ions to perform various biological functions, so aqueous sodium chloride which contains both types of ions seems suitable to fill that demand. But there is a problem. The biochemical functions and locations in the body that require positive sodium ions are separate from those functions and locations requiring negative chloride ions. For example, one of the most important uses of free sodium ions in the body occurs in the nervous system. The exchange across cell membranes of positive sodium ions with negative potassium ions generates action potentials which send electric current throughout the nervous system. Without sufficient quantities of free sodium ions and other ionic electrolytes obtained from the metabolism of organic compounds in the diet, this biochemical reaction cannot occur, and the body cannot function.

Unfortunately, wherever sodium ions go in aqueous sodium chloride, the chloride ions are attracted to follow right along. If you have a cup of salt water, you can't pour out only the portion of the water with sodium ions or only the portion with chloride ions. The charged ions never clump together in fluid, but maintain their electrical equilibrium by distributing themselves evenly throughout the aqueous solution. Thus, positive and negative ions in an aqueous state of sodium chloride remain interconnected in the same chemical proportions as they do in the crystallized state. The sodium chloride in salt water also retains the same taste as the sodium chloride in salt crystals. Only industrial methods like electrolysis can  neutralize and remove the chloride ions from aqueous sodium chloride, which produces chlorine gas when an electrical current is run through salt water (brine).

All sodium chloride ingested by the body is either already in an aqueous state or is quickly converted to an aqueous state in the body's fluids. But how will the body manage to avoid having the oppositely charged chloride ions follow along wherever sodium ions are needed in the body, like in the nervous system? How can the body neutralize and remove the chloride ions from the ingested aqueous sodium chloride without having access to an industrial strength electrical current, as in electrolysis which also releases poisonous chlorine gas? It can't! And that explains why ingested sodium chloride is useless to the body as a nutrient. 

Unlike natural food, sodium chloride cannot provide any free sodium ions to the body, no matter how much it dissolves in water because sodium ions remain electrostatically attached to chloride ions in an aqueous state. Sodium chloride is consumed, circulated, and excreted as sodium chloride, without ever changing its chemical structure, regardless how much it changes between an aqueous and crystallized state. This type of inert chemical reaction never occurs in a nutrient that is metabolized by the body; it commonly occurs when a poisonous drug is consumed and eliminated. 

In pharmacology, a drug's response in the body, more accurately described as the body's response to an inert poison, is called the drug's pharmacodynamics, and the body's absorption and elimination of this poison is known as the drug's pharmacokinetics. Pharmacology texts clearly list the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of sodium chloride, confirming its use as a drug and a poison. As with all other drugs, adverse effects of sodium chloride use are listed in medical books. Sodium chloride's retention and excretion by the body places a large strain on kidneys and other organs, damaging tissue and raising blood pressure as the body retains water in extracellular tissue to dilute salt. 

Observational studies that show a U-shape association between mortality and salt intake are misinterpreted to suggest that a very-low-salt diet causes increased mortality, proving that eating salt is healthy. However, lacking randomized controlled trials, these association studies are not able to demonstrate causation. It is difficult for researchers to accurately control for increases in mortality from low salt consumption due to confounding factors such as poor overall nutritional status of patients with congestive heart failure and other chronically ill patients with poor dietary intake.

Chronic heart failure is often a result of the left ventricle of the heart giving out from forcing against the resistance of high blood pressure in the arteries due to increased blood plasma volume from excess fluid retention caused by sodium intake. It is likely that artery elasticity in younger people who consume salt helps prevent high blood pressure as their arteries dilate to compensate for extra plasma volume. However, as arteries lose elasticity with age, increased plasma volume from salt intake raises blood pressure. According to the INTERSALT study, the Yanomami tribe of Brazil consume no salt, and their blood pressure averages only 95/61 mmHg, which does not rise with age. By contrast, the leading cause of death in China is stroke, likely related to the population's high salt intake.

Sodium chloride, which is also used to melt ice off our roads, is highly irritating and poisonous to delicate human tissue as observed if salt gets in the eye or in a wound. This explains why the body tries to protect tissue from harm by diluting salt with water. Water retention in the peripheral body parts like the ankles shows up as edema, and accumulated fluid retention in the abdomen contributes to ascites. Consuming yet another drug, a diuretic to suppress water retention from salt intake, ignores the underlying cause of the problem, undermines the body's defense mechanism to dilute salt, and increases the risk for additional drug-induced adverse effects like dehydration. 

Research suggests that the greater the salt intake, the greater the need for potassium, which is found abundantly in fruit and vegetables. A diet with more sodium relative to potassium increases disease and mortality risk much more than a diet with more potassium relative to sodium. This may be partially explained by the function of special proteins in the body called sodium-potassium-chloride (Na-K-Cl) cotransporters which help cells eliminate sodium chloride—it may be that the more potassium is available for use by Na-K-Cl cotransporters the more sodium chloride can be eliminated. This would also explain why salt-related water retention is so thoroughly eliminated when consuming a potassium-rich fruit and vegetable diet with no added salt. It is also possible that sodium chloride normally forms in the body as a natural waste product from metabolic reactions involving free sodium and chloride ions, which may explain why the body is equipped to eliminate limited amounts of sodium chloride. This does not prove, however, that sodium chloride is a necessary nutrient.

Water retention or edema that occurs in the cornea, vitreous humor, and other components of the eye from salt intake probably contributes to myopia or nearsightedness as the distorted eye shape causes errors of refraction. If the eye is not able to expand to accommodate the excess fluid, damaging pressure builds up, such as in glaucoma. Patients on Kempfer's salt-free rice diet reported improved vision. 

A comparison of NHANES data below shows that from 1971-1972 to 1999-2004, myopia prevalence increased in U.S females from 27.1% to 45.8% (18.7% increase) and increased in U.S. males from 22.8% to 37.4% (14.6% increase). During the same period, sodium intake increased from approximately 1800 mg to 2900 mg per day in females (61% increase) and from 2800 mg to 4200 mg per day in males (50% increase). To my knowledge, this is the first suggested association between myopia prevalence and sodium intake based on epidemiological evidence. Asian countries like China and Japan have the world's highest sodium intake and highest myopia prevalence.

It is commonly believed among healthcare professionals that children suffering from cystic fibrosis have a genetic defect that requires treatment with large daily doses of sodium chloride to replace the large quantity of sodium expectorated in mucous by the children's lungs. It never occurs to these professionals that their sodium chloride treatment may be worse than the disease. For example, it may be that sodium chloride poisons the body and acts as an epigenetic factor which stimulates the genetic sodium defect and generates the copious expectorant in cystic fibrosis as the body attempts to rid itself of this poison. Sodium chloride is an expectorant, which increases mucous and phlegm flow to remove the poisonous salt out of the respiratory tract.  Mucous produced to remove salt may also be excreted by vomiting, which explains salt's use as an emetic that induces vomiting. 

Salt-induced fluid retention may cause sleep disorders. Although the increased prevalence of obesity in recent decades is claimed to contribute to an increased prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing, 60% of the population affected by breathing disorders during sleep are not obese, suggesting there are other causes. It has been shown that sleep apnea and insomnia occurs in people with water retention as excess fluid shifts into and obstructs their upper airways when they lie down. As previously mentioned, NHANES data shows an increase in salt consumption in recent decades, which potentially links salt-induced fluid retention as a cause of the simultaneous increased prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing. 

An analysis of NHANES data should also investigate anecdotal observations that salt intake is associated with colds, flu, and nasal mucosal edema in sinusitis. According to the World Health Organization, in sinusitis "the sinuses become blocked and fill with fluid." In other words, it is the swelling of nasal blood vessels and mucosal tissue with retained salty fluid that is more likely to block the sinuses in nasal mucosal edema, not the flow of mucous. The function of mucous secretion may be to expedite the flow of sodium chloride out of the nasal passages. If the edema persists, cellular toxins may accumulate due to insufficient circulation through the swollen tissue, and infections arise.

In the United States, acute rhinosinusitis is more prevalent in the southern states, which is an area also known as the Stroke Belt where the populations' salt intake is high. Salt-induced fluid retention may also build up in the lungs in pulmonary edema. It is interesting to note that marine birds have a salt-secreting nasal gland in their beaks that excretes a high concentration of sodium chloride, and this implies that a similar nasal excretory function that removes excess sodium chloride might exist in other animals and humans. 


In Fasting Can Save Your Life, Herbert Shelton explained how heart-disease patients with salt-induced edema improved with fasting: "The body of the fasting patient is able to bring the salt and water back into the circulation, from where it is excreted.  There is commonly an enormous urinary excretion of sodium chloride. In such cases, up to 78 grams of salt a day having been observed to be excreted during a fast." Discussing the common cold, Shelton pointed out that fasting "may hasten the termination of the cold," which implies that fasting hastens the reduction of nasal mucosal edema and restores normal circulation to clear accumulated toxins. A general reduction in edema may also explain why many people eating natural-food diets containing few or no salty processed foods experience fewer colds. 

Scientists are puzzled to explain why increased natriuresis (sodium excreted in the urine) occurs during fasting, especially in the presence of an adrenal hormone called aldosterone which normally retains serum sodium levels in the kidneys. The explanation may be that aldosterone does not react with sodium chloride as it does with free sodium ions obtained from organic compounds in natural food. Shelton points out that the serum level of sodium remains constant during a fast, indicating that the source of excess sodium eliminated in urine is mainly from sodium chloride.

Much of the improvement in the senses of taste, smell, hearing, and vision that occurs during a fast may be attributable to the rapid reduction of accumulated sodium chloride in the body. In The Science and Fine Art of Fasting, Shelton says, “the thickening of the nasal mucosa must always impair the sense of smell,” even if excess mucous is not present. This provides evidence that fasting restores smell by eliminating salt-induced nasal mucosal edema. Shelton commented that during a fast, “the sense of smell becomes very acute,” and, “the faster smells disagreeable odors in his environment that were not detected before the fast” although the faster enjoys added pleasure from smelling agreeable odors. Furthermore, Shelton says that in fasting, “users of glasses are enabled to discard their glasses and see as well as ever without them,” which implies that the eyeball and its components return toward their normal size when salt-induced edema is removed. Finally, “the improvement in the sense of hearing is even more marked than the other senses,” which Shelton attributes to the clearing up of congestion in the ears and in the eustachian tubes, which are conditions also related to salt-induced edema. As for the bland taste of a low-salt diet, researchers have found that when people reduce their salt intake, their taste buds quickly adjust to the lower concentration of salt, which restores people's taste sensitivity and enables people to enjoy the taste of a healthier diet while increasing their repulsion to the taste of salty food. All of this evidence linking salt to the impairment of taste, smell, vision, and hearing demonstrates how salt reduces the population's quality of life.

As summertime heat causes a greater loss of salt through perspiration, a reduction in salt-induced fluid retention in the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, along with a lower caloric intake of food that contains salt, may help explain the lower incidence of colds and flu during warmer seasons. Likewise, the heat of sauna bathing was found to be associated with reduced cardiovascular disease, which may possibly be explained by increased elimination of sodium chloride through sweat. Perhaps many of the health benefits attributed to cardiovascular exercise in general may be linked to reductions in retained sodium chloride lost through sweat. Shelton points out that heat baths do not increase elimination of toxins from within the cells. This implies that only toxins already released into the circulation are lost in sweat.

For patients suffering with rhinosinusitis, nasal saline irrigation is recommended to temporarily relieve symptoms. If the concentration of the saline solution used is greater than the concentration of salt within the nasal mucosa, osmotic pressure will draw out some of the water, causing temporary relieve. But because salt is still present in the nasal mucosa, saline irrigation does nothing to prevent the nasal mucosa from refilling with fluid. It is also possible that a portion of the saline solution may be absorbed into the nasal mucosa, increasing sodium chloride retention and making the condition worse. Systemic absorption of nasal irrigation has been reported.

Edema is so common in pregnancy that it is now considered "normal" instead of an indication of salt-related pathology. In a population of salt eaters, the word "normal" is simply an euphemism for "average." During the mid-twentieth century, pregnant women were advised to reduce salt intake, but today this is no longer so. Researchers claim that evidence of salt's harm in pregnancy is lacking, which seems incredible considering the general findings of salt's harm to the heart, kidneys, brain, and blood vessels. More rigorous studies, removed from the influence of industry, are needed on the effect of salt in pregnancy. This vital issue in the baby's and mother's health is especially important considering that some types of medical abortions are performed using saline solutions.

Excess fluid retention related to salt intake may also contribute to inner ear problems like Meniere's Disease and vertigo, especially if the retained fluid contains undigested gluten and casein that forms a glue-like exudate (glue ear). Researchers Campbell, Hay, and Tonks writing in the British Medical Journal, December, 1951, reported a "generalized oedema which is known to occur before and during the early part of an attack of migraine." The researchers added that in women migraine patients, "their skirts become tight or their legs swell, while a number of subjects notice an increase in body weight." Although the researchers linked migraine to disturbances in sodium and water balance, they neglected to consider dietary sources of sodium chloride as a causative factor. It may be that salt-induced edema puts pressure on cranial nerves which triggers migraine. Results of a randomized clinical trial by Amer, Woodward and Appel, BMJ, 2014, confirm that reduced salt intake significantly lowers risk of headache.

Like many other drugs that induce lung disease, salt intake is strongly linked to asthma. Saline solutions administered to patients often have adverse effects including pneumonia, pulmonary edema, increased blood pressure, higher pulse and respiratory rate, vomiting, anxiety, and acute cardiac failure. How much suffering and mortality from pneumonia in the elderly could be reduced by eliminating sodium chloride from their diet? Eugene Christian, who wrote raw-food diet books such as Uncooked Foods & How to Use Them, freely used salt and died of pneumonia at age 72. By contrast, natural coconut water containing balanced amounts of sodium and other electrolytes does not have these adverse effects when administered intravenously in emergency cases. It is reported that ingesting a salt solution with a concentration of one gram of sodium chloride per kilogram of body weight is lethal. Speaking of body weight, salt intake has also been linked to contributing to the obesity epidemic by stimulating increased intake of calorie-dense beverages like beer, carbonated soft drinks, chocolate milk, milkshakes, and sugar-sweetened fruit drinks.

No doubt, the body's emetic reaction to salt is a defensive response to expel a poisonous substance. As a youngster who ate salt freely, the author recalls occasional feelings of nausea and a sudden flow of very salty saliva pouring into the mouth before vomiting, which was attributed to a "stomach virus." Such cases of stomach flu or stomach virus may be nothing more than the body's attempt to remove excess sodium chloride. Scarlet fever and diphtheria are also related to salt-induced edema. Fever is a common adverse effect of prescribed sodium chloride tablets, possibly as a mechanism to help sweat out salt. In addition to the previously listed adverse effects of saline solutions, fever is also caused in patients infused with sodium chloride solutions. Thus, salt is an exogenous pyrogen that induces pyrogenic hyperthermia or fever. Hot flashes and night sweats may also be related to salt intake. Typhoid fever killed more soldiers than combat during the Spanish-American War, which might be related to the salt content used abundantly as a food preservative in field rations. Entire populations living in temperate climates have relied on salt-preserved food for centuries, which may have contributed to their high rate of morbidity and mortality from "infectious" diseases.

Zhang and other Chinese researchers published findings in Cell Research (2015) showing that a high-salt diet stimulates inflammation of the lungs in mice. Okinawans, the oldest people in the world who avoid many chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, commonly die from pneumonia and tuberculosis, which is probably related to their high salt intake, although they eat less salt than other Japanese populations. Salt is also claimed to partially paralyze the sphincter vesicae that controls the bladder. In nocturnal enuresis, bedwetting, the urine released by children was found to contain a higher concentration of sodium.

The emetic effect of sodium chloride may also explain morning sickness during pregnancy. Shelton points out that nausea, vomiting, and morning sickness "are not symptoms of pregnancy. They are symptoms of renovation. They indicate that nature is undertaking a house cleaning; the body is to be put into its best shape preparatory to pregnancy and parturition." Shelton further says, " In ordinary cases of morning sickness, three to four days of fasting are sufficient to restore comfort and enable the woman to eat without distress." This rapid improvement may be explained by increased elimination of sodium chloride during fasting. 

Coincidently, researchers found that natriuresis peaks at around the third or fourth day of a fast, tapering off day by day henceforth. Boulter, Hoffman, and Arky, in Pattern of Sodium Excretion Accompanying Starvation, reported that natriuresis continues into subsequent refeeding for another three to four days as long as the carbohydrate content of the diet remains below 50 grams. When the minimum daily carbohydrate requirement of 150 grams (600 calories from carbohydrate) is fed, natriuresis associated with the fast ends; the fast is over. Researchers refer to this effect of increased carbohydrate intake as the anti-natriuresis phase of fasting and refeeding. These findings help explain Shelton's comments that excess carbohydrates are associated with catarrh, congestion of the nasal mucosal membranes. This is because heavier intake of carbohydrates prevents elimination of sodium chloride that causes nasal mucosal edema. It is also noteworthy that bread, the most common source of carbohydrates in the average diet, contains high amounts of added salt. By contrast, high-water content fruits that are lower in carbohydrate concentration are fed in limited amounts in elimination diets to restore health. 

A strict salt-free diet has been found effective in remedying skin diseases such as cutaneous tuberculosis and lupus vulgaris. In Skin Diseases, Nutrition, and Metabolism, Erich Urbach says, "On a strictly salt-free diet...the quantity of sodium and chloride eliminated in the urine in twenty-four hours does not exceed 0.8 to 1 Gm." It has been estimated that the average salt eater stores three to four ounces of salt in the body, which is 84 to 112 grams of sodium chloride. It therefore will take this person three to four months to completely eliminate all stored salt from the body on a strict no-salt diet. This may account for 15 to 20 pounds or more of lost bodyweight from reduced water retention. Elimination of salt through the kidneys is a slow process because the high osmotic pressure of salt in the blood reduces the kidney's ability to filter it for removal. 

On the other hand, exercise, by mobilizing the lymph to flow back into the blood circulation and toward the organs of elimination such as the skin, kidneys, and mucosal membranes throughout the body, may help speed up elimination of sodium chloride which scientists report is stored in subcutaneous lymph fluid. Researchers found that 12-15 grams of salt was lost in subjects' sweat when subjects worked for 10 hours in moderately hot conditions. This is many times more salt than the amount excreted on a no-salt diet alone. However, it may be that the external temperature only determines the channel of salt excretion rather than the amount or concentration of salt excreted in fluid. For example, the nasal mucosa appears to become more active in excreting sodium chloride during activity in cold conditions when minimal perspiration through the skin occurs. 

The American College of Sports Medicine reported findings of controlled studies showing that walkers have half the amount of colds compared to sedentary people, supporting the hypothesis that improved lymph circulation from activity increases the amount of salt excreted and reduces nasal mucosal edema in rhinosinusitis. Runners also report less illness, but overexercising is counterproductive because it weakens the immune system of which the lymphatic system is a part. Lymphatics also exist in the eye, and lymph outflow stimulated by ocular activity, especially in combination with a no-salt diet, might play a role in reducing ocular salt water retention related to myopia and glaucoma. 

Water retention from sodium chloride also produces bowel edema, which increases intra-abdominal pressure. The resulting abdominal hypertension interferes with normal venous flow through the abdomen and contributes to circulatory problems in the lower body such as varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and heavy menstrual flow in dysmenorrhea. Abdominal hypertension restricts cardiac output, renal filtration rate, and lung capacity as well. Edema from salt also contributes to tissue congestion that compresses nerves in neurological problems like sciatica and carpel tunnel syndrome. The latest research now shows that salt also has inflammatory properties, which contributes to congestion and swelling in body tissues. For example, in The Journal of Immunology, Tubbs et al. (2017) showed that a high-salt diet exacerbates inflammatory bowel disease in animals.

Understanding that sodium chloride is a drug rather than a nutrient or a harmless flavor enhancer and food preservative is an important step in increasing the public's awareness and preparedness to reject this dangerous poison that is ubiquitous and that poisons much of our food supply. The chemical form in which we ingest sodium and other needed elements is critical to that element's bioavailability and utilization to build and maintain health. For example, we need to take oxygen into our lungs to breathe, and water contains oxygen, but if we attempt to fill our lungs with water to supply oxygen we will drown. Likewise, we need to ingest natural sodium and natural chloride in our diets to remain healthy, but if we attempt to supply these with sodium chloride, we only poison our bodies while our nutritional need for useable sodium and chloride remain unfulfilled. Natural, unsalted foods are our best source to supply these elements.

Finally, some people might object that eliminating sodium chloride removes the iodine added to it as well which is necessary to consume for health. Yet, usable iodine is present abundantly in the same natural foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables, that supply natural organic compounds containing useable sodium, calcium, and other elements. 

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