New study: low salt intake may lead to depression

A study published in the current issue of the journal, Physiology & Behavior, suggests that our predisposition towards high salt diets may actually be a coping mechanism for dealing with stress, depression and anxiety.

The study was conducted by Professor Micah Leshem from the department of psychology at the University of Haifa, Israel with hopes of discovering why we’re drawn to such high levels of salt. Leshem reports in Physiology & Behavior that a dietary sodium intake of 0.04 percent (approximately one teaspoon– the new lower recommended daily allowance for a 150 lb adult) was shown to actually cause damage by reducing body weight, increase adrenal and heart weight, and increase risk of early death up to 55 percent (in the study rats).

The study’s findings showed that a high salt intake might actually serve as an adaptive response—a coping mechanism for dealing with adversity. The findings were consistent among test subjects where low dietary sodium induced anxiety.

It’s commonly understood that salt is required solely for mineral-fluid balance in mammals and that for humans especially, high salt intake may lead to serious health risks. But that may be a misconception, says Leshem, citing that, “We do not know why heightened salt appetite persists.” The ubiquitous draw to excess salt, despite the known health risks must be the result of “additional causes maintaining high salt intake,” according to Leshem.

Whether Leshem tested various types of sodium is not clear. Many schools of thought consider (the most common) chemically manufactured salt to pose health risks and naturally occurring mineral salts to be more nutritionally balancing to the human body. New research on low salt intake also links it to a higher risk of heart disease.

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Photo: Jill Ettinger