Sodium Chloride: Is It Needed in the Body?

Sodium chloride, or salt, can boost blood pressure.

Sodium chloride, or salt, can boost blood pressure.

You need sodium chloride to keep your heart beating and nerves working. It’s truly that vital. On the flip side, sodium chloride also can get you into big trouble because it raises your blood pressure. Daily stress alone can give blood pressure an upward nudge, so give your body some relief by not over-using sodium chloride, a.k.a., table salt.

Sodium Chloride and Body Fluids

Your cells exist in a watery environment. Sodium chloride and other nutrients that produce energy and fill metabolic roles that keep you healthy depend on a strict balance of fluids in and around the cells to do their jobs properly. Most of the sodium chloride in your body is found in the fluids outside cells, where it's responsible for regulating the volume of fluids, including blood. It also helps maintain osmotic pressure, which keeps the dissolved substances inside cells in balance with those outside the cells.

Other Roles

When sodium chloride dissolves in the fluids inside your body, the sodium and chloride molecules separate to become electrolytes that transmit electrical impulses. As an electrolyte, sodium stimulates nerve impulses and muscle contraction. It works opposite another electrolyte, potassium, to regulate your heartbeat. Chloride helps maintain the appropriate balance of electrolytes and the pH balance of blood. Your body also uses chloride to make the acid that breaks down food in your stomach.

Daily Requirement

The adequate daily intake of sodium is 1,500 milligrams and for chloride it’s 2,300 milligrams. Here’s the catch: A teaspoon of salt provides 2,300 milligrams of sodium. Since sodium accounts for about 40 percent of the combined sodium chloride, 1 teaspoon of salt also exceeds your chloride intake. The maximum amount you should consume, called the upper tolerable intake, is 5,800 milligrams of salt.

Health Concerns

When salt consumption increases, your body retains more water. As the fluids increase, so does blood volume, which in turn escalates your blood pressure. High blood pressure makes your heart and kidneys work harder. Over time, this damages your arteries and can cause stroke, heart attack and kidney disease. Even if you don’t shake a lot of salt onto food, you still probably consume too much sodium chloride, which is an ingredient in many processed foods. A study published in the September 2012 issue of the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” reported that 99 percent of all U.S. adults consume more than the recommended daily intake.

Sodium Chloride in Foods

More than 75 percent of the salt you consume is added to foods before you buy them, whether from restaurants or grocery stores, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only about 5 to 6 percent is added at the table. To control your salt intake, check the nutrition facts labels on the foods you buy for their sodium content and, when possible, choose low-salt products.

About the Author

Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images