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Sodium is an essential nutrient that maintains your water and pH balance. It enables your cell walls to draw in nutrients and plays a role in muscle contraction.

What are its health benefits?

About a third of the sodium in your body is in your bones, the rest is in your body fluids – and your kidneys control how much is in your body. Hence, if you have too much of it, your kidneys cannot excrete it and it builds up in your body.

It occurs most frequently in combination with chloride as table salt (the technical term for salt is sodium chloride). For millions of years, the human diet contained less than one gram of sodium per day, and high blood pressure (hypertension) was very rare. But now, if you eat a lot of processed food or add a lot of salt to your meals, you might be getting between six and 12g a day. Experts link this shift in sodium intake to high blood pressure (hypertension), which is a very serious and widespread problem in South Africa and can lead to stroke and heart failure.

Other conditions associated with too much sodium include osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.

Do you have a deficiency?

A sodium deficiency is highly unlikely, but still possible after a bad bout of vomiting or diarrhoea, if you drink excessive amounts of water, or if you regularly fast on juice and water.

Warning signs include:

  • Dizziness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Lack of concentration
  • Dehydration

Find it in these foods

Sodium can be found in the following foods:

  • Seafood
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Celery
  • Seaweed/kelp
  • Table salt

Recommended dietary allowance (RDA)

There isn’t one because almost everyone gets more than they need. When it comes to healthy diets, healthcare practitioners advise that you choose foods low in salt and sodium and steer clear of processed and restaurant foods as much as possible. After all, it’s not the salt shaker that’s the biggest contributor to our excess sodium consumption, but processed and restaurant foods.

Know the overdose risks

If you are sodium sensitive (you retain sodium more easily), high levels of this mineral can cause high blood pressure (hypertension). Other conditions linked to excess sodium include swollen ankles, severe premenstrual problems and toxaemia, a serious condition that occurs during pregnancy and causes problems with the placenta.

Ensure you discuss dietary supplementation with your Clicks pharmacist to avoid the potential for side effects and adverse interactions with medications.

The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by Clicks' pharmacist Waheed Abdurahman in February 2015