Sodium is a vital mineral that helps maintain the balance of fluids in and around your cells. It is the primary positively charged ion (cation) in the extracellular fluid and works in conjunction with other electrolytes, such as potassium and chloride, to regulate various physiological processes.

Functions of Sodium

  • Fluid balance: Sodium plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of fluids in the body, regulating blood volume and blood pressure.
  • Nerve function: Sodium is essential for the proper transmission of nerve impulses, allowing for efficient communication between nerves and muscles.
  • Muscle contraction: Sodium is involved in the process of muscle contraction, enabling muscles to function properly.
  • Nutrient absorption: Sodium assists in the absorption of certain nutrients, such as glucose and amino acids, in the intestines.

Good Sources of Sodium

  • Table salt: The most common source of sodium in the diet is table salt (sodium chloride).
  • Dairy products: Cheese and processed dairy products can contribute to sodium intake.

The following sources contain high levels of sodium but are not necessary recommended and consumption should minimised: 

  • Processed foods: Canned soups, frozen dinners, and packaged snacks often contain high levels of sodium as a preservative and flavour enhancer.
  • Condiments and sauces: Soy sauce, ketchup, and salad dressings can contain significant amounts of sodium.

How Much Sodium Do We Need?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides the following Adequate Intakes (AI) values for sodium:

  • Infants (0-6 months): 110 mg/day (milligram)
  • Infants (7-12 months): 370 mg/day
  • Children (1-3 years): 800 mg/day 
  • Children (4-8 years): 1,000 mg/day
  • Children (9-13 years): 1,200 mg/day
  • Adolescents (14-18 years): 1,500 mg/day
  • Adults (19-50 years): 1,500 mg/day
  • Adults (51-70 years): 1,500 mg/day
  • Adults (71+ years): 1,500 mg/day

What Are The Signs of Sodium Deficiency? 

Sodium deficiency, or hyponatremia, can occur due to excessive sweating, dehydration, or certain medical conditions. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Muscle cramps or spasms
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion and disorientation

What Happens If I Take Too Much Sodium? 

Excessive sodium intake, or hypernatremia, can lead to several health issues. Some possible consequences include:

  • High blood pressure: Consuming too much sodium can cause fluid retention, leading to increased blood pressure and a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases.
  • Heart disease: High sodium intake is linked to an elevated risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
  • Kidney problems: Excessive sodium consumption can strain the kidneys, potentially leading to kidney damage and chronic kidney disease.
  • Osteoporosis: A high-sodium diet may increase calcium loss from bones, contributing to bone loss and an increased risk of osteoporosis.