CAN SALT STOP A MI­GRAINE?

Don’t be too hasty in con­sign­ing salt to the di­etary sin-bin – it turns out it could ac­tu­ally be good for you

Essentials (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

Salt – it’s of­ten given a bad rap, and it’s blamed for in­creas­ing blood pres­sure and el­e­vat­ing our risk of heart at­tacks and strokes. But is it ac­tu­ally an im­por­tant part of our diet? Ac­cord­ing to nu­tri­tion­ist Sonia Pombo, the an­swer is yes. ‘ We all need a bit of salt in our di­ets for our bod­ies to func­tion prop­erly,’ she says. Now, new re­ports have gone one step fur­ther and sug­gest it could be a key rem­edy in help­ing us tackle mi­graines, too. Maybe our favourite flavour en­hancer is about to be­come more friend than foe.

Get salt savvy

The lat­est nat­u­ral cure to be mak­ing the rounds on so­cial me­dia and on­line news chan­nels is salt wa­ter. It’s been sug­gested as the new drug-free so­lu­tion for man­ag­ing mi­graines, but how much truth is there re­ally be­hind this ta­ble salt treat­ment? ‘ Salt might be able to help a mi­graine if it’s trig­gered by de­hy­dra­tion as a re­sult of fluid loss through vom­it­ing or sim­ply lack of fluid in­take,’ ex­plains Dr Ric­cardo Di Cuffa, who is a GP. Af­ter all, if you’ve ever been to the emer­gency room and treated for de­hy­dra­tion you’re im­me­di­ately put on an IV fluid drip con­tain­ing a mix of wa­ter, sodium (salt) and some­times dex­trose (sugar).

Although, be aware that self-med­i­cat­ing with the cor­rect amount of salt to avoid ex­ac­er­bat­ing your de­hy­dra­tion could be tricky. ‘ But it’s un­likely salt will treat mi­graines if they’re trig­gered by other causes,’ he adds. That doesn’t mean your salt cel­lar should be pushed to the back of the kitchen cup­board. De­spite its neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions, salt (a min­eral com­pound made pri­mar­ily of sodium chlo­ride) is an es­sen­tial nu­tri­ent, which is im­por­tant for a num­ber of body func­tions. ‘ It’s a vi­tal com­po­nent in our blood and mod­er­ate con­sump­tion helps to sup­port healthy heart func­tion,’ says Dr Di Cuffa.

It might seem to go against ev­ery­thing we’ve been told, but these lit­tle grains are re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing our heart rate sta­ble. Sodium ions (found in salt) are es­sen­tial for the con­trac­tion of mus­cles, in­clud­ing the most im­por­tant one of all – the heart. It’s also key for pre­serv­ing proper brain and nerve func­tion, as well as aid­ing our di­ges­tion. What’s more, it plays a big role in keep­ing us hy­drated, as it en­sures that we main­tain the cor­rect fluid bal­ance in our bod­ies. That’s why it’s key to re­place lost salt, as well as wa­ter, af­ter a hard work­out – iso­tonic sports drinks are a good way to top up lost nu­tri­ents.

How much is too much?

‘ Low salt lev­els oc­ca­sion­ally oc­cur as a re­sult of heavy pro­longed ex­er­cise and/ or hot and hu­mid weather, due to a loss of sodium in sweat,’ ex­plains nu­tri­tion­ist Fiona Hunter. ‘ Se­vere vom­it­ing and di­ar­rhoea can also cause prob­lems,’ she adds. How do we know if our salt lev­els are low? Symp­toms in­clude weak­ness, fa­tigue, mus­cle cramps, headaches, con­fu­sion and ir­ri­tabil­ity. De­fi­ciency, how­ever, is in­cred­i­bly rare. Hav­ing too much salt is usu­ally more of a prob­lem.

‘Adults should have no more than 5g of salt (2g sodium) or about one tea­spoon a day,’ ex­plains Dr Di Cuffa. ‘ But most peo­ple are eat­ing much more than that.’ Cur­rently, the av­er­age in­take in South Africa is about two times the rec­om­mended amount. Even if we don’t add salt to our food dur­ing cook­ing or as we eat, our di­ets could still be high in it. Ac­cord­ing to Sonia, up to 55% of the salt in our di­ets is hid­den in pro­cessed foods. And this doesn’t just in­clude the ob­vi­ous things that taste salty, such as cheese or ba­con, but ev­ery­day items you least ex­pect, such as bread and ce­real.

Con­sum­ing too much salt can lead to se­ri­ous health im­pli­ca­tions. Cru­cially, it can make your body hold on to too much wa­ter. This ex­tra fluid can then in­crease blood pres­sure, putting a strain on our kid­neys, ar­ter­ies, heart and brain. Over time, this can re­sult in kid­ney and heart dis­ease, and el­e­vate our stroke risk, while also leading to brit­tle bones.

Yes, when it comes to salt, mod­er­a­tion is cer­tainly key. While it may not re­place painkiller­s for mi­graine suf­fer­ers just yet, the num­ber of health ben­e­fits in even a small amount means it’s not the diet de­mon we once thought it was.

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