What is Sodium?

The discovery of sodium dates back to 1807 which was isolated by Humphry Davy from the electrolysis of caustic soda. The word sodium comes from the Arabic word ‘Suda’ or ‘Soda’ which means headache, in Latin ‘Sodanum’ meaning headache remedy. The elemental symbol for sodium ‘Na’ is derived from the Latin word Natrium derived from the ancient Egyptian word ‘Natron’ which is a natural salt.

Sodium and potassium are the body’s main electrolyte minerals in addition to other important electrolyte minerals including chloride, calcium and magnesium all of which have various interactions with each other.

One of the main function of sodium is to balance fluids in the body, transmit nerve impulses and is required for muscle contraction. Sodium in the body also has a direct impact and involvement in blood pressure. Sodium along with potassium and chloride is also involved in the production and function of hydrochloric acid which helps to digest food.

Sodium is found in the body fluids and outside the cell whereas potassium is found inside the cell.

Health benefits of Sodium

Needed for electrolyte balance

Electrolyte balance is important for optimal health. Sodium is one of the most important electrolyte to keep in balance as levels with are too high or too low can have many health implications including inducing coma. Other electrolytes that are important and interacts with sodium includes calcium, potassium, chlorine, phosphate, and magnesium. On the periodic table sodium can be found near potassium, magnesium and calcium and is an essential macromineral.

Most people leading an active life and work out often may quickly develop low electrolyte balance and require restoring levels either through supplements or various beverages. While there are many products on the market to replenish electrolyte levels it is best to stick with zero additives for optimal health and a good balance of electrolyte levels.

Aids in healthy digestion

The presence of sodium chloride contributes to the formation of stomach acid with the addition of potassium chloride and hydrochloric acid. The chloride in salt (sodium chloride) is needed to stimulate hydrochloric acid which helps with digestion. Individuals on low salt diets can end up with hypochlorhydria which is likely to impair digestion. [1]

Regulates blood sugar Level

Sodium and potassium pump (Na+,K+-ATPase) is required for glucose absorption needed for energy production in the body. [2]

Needed for hydration

Sodium is needed for hydration in addition to water, a proper balance of both keeps the body well hydrated. The cells of the body also need sodium to remain hydrated. Sodium deficiency can be caused by excessive sweating, such as in those who are involved in strenuous physical activity such as athletes and can also be caused by extreme hot weather which can lead to an electrolyte imbalance and dehydration. [3]

Prevents muscle cramps

Sodium is required for muscle contractions and a deficiency can cause electrolyte imbalance with symptoms manifesting as muscle cramps and or spasms. Some studies also suggest that sodium plays a role in heat cramping caused by salty sweating. A sodium and potassium balance is also necessary for proper electrolyte balance to maintain optimal health. [4]

Controls blood volume, blood pressure and balances fluids in the body

The regulatory function of sodium helps balance blood pressure and regulate fluid in the body.

Sodium in the body can affect the amount of fluid in the blood and outside the cells vital for their functions. It helps the body retain water which is necessary for increasing blood pressure but only in small amounts. When sodium is reduced this has also shown to reduce blood pressure. This is directly regulated by the kidneys and sensory signals to various hormone producing organs. When the adrenal glands secrete the hormone aldosterone the kidneys promote sodium retention and potassium excretion. Vasopressin is another hormone secreted by the pituitary gland that aids in the conservation of sodium.

Deficiencies of aldosterone are similar to sodium deficiency with symptoms including low blood pressure, high pulse (likely when standing), feeling dizzy or lightheaded when standing and palpitations. In addition to this low aldosterone can also increase craving for salty foods or snacks. A deficiency of aldosterone have also shown high levels of potassium and lower sodium on blood tests.

Sodium also supresses cortisol levels, a hormone which is linked to water and fat retention although more research may need to be done to establish the mechanism through which this occurs. [5]

Some studies on excessively low salt diet contributing to adverse health conditions. [6]

Other studies are showing that low sodium intake on healthy individuals with normal blood pressure are not recommended. [7] [8]

It’s important to maintain a healthy sodium and potassium balance as too much sodium and insufficient potassium can cause the body to retain water causing swelling of lower extremities. This usually manifests as edema and can cause swelling of the feet and ankles.

Sodium is also involved in the frequency and volume of urine through the functions of the kidneys.

Maintains body pH

The acid-base balance refers to the process in which the body maintains a near neutral pH. Sodium is involved in maintaining body pH by balancing acids and bases in the body.

Sodium is involved in the removal of excess acid from the cells of the body and is important for balancing acid levels in the blood. This is done through the kidneys by removing acid levels through urine.

Diabetic ketoacidosis can be caused by high blood acid levels known as ketones. A treatment of replenishing electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and chloride is used to reduce blood acidity as well as the use of insulin. [9] [10]

Prevents heat stroke

When a person is exposed to excessive heat and not drinking enough water this can cause dehydration and depleted electrolyte levels which can lead to heat stroke (also known as a sun stroke). A heat stroke can result when the body temperature rises to 104 F (40 C) or higher which can throw off the body’s natural capacity for regulating body temperature. Symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, increased thirst, dry skin, dry lips and mouth, dizziness, light-headedness, confusion, increased heart rate and difficulties with breathing all symptoms which are also associated with a sodium deficiency. The addition of sugar with sodium can also provide some relief for heat stroke and heat related exhaustion. [11]

One study has shown a loss of electrolyte sweat and an iodine deficiency in a hot environment [12]

May regulate body temperature

Some anecdotal reports suggest that low sodium may be associated with feeling chills or cold with sodium helping to increase body temperature. The reason for this may be due to low sodium decreasing blood volume and blood pressure. This can cause blood pressure to increase through the baroreceptor reflex drawing blood away from the capillaries (especially of the hands and feet) into the major arteries and veins which can make those particular areas feeling cold. 

Although some individuals have noticed temperature rising from sodium intake which can be particularly beneficial in cold climates it is important to keep sodium and potassium balanced as too much sodium has many health implications including hypertension. Potassium has also shown to reduce the adverse effects of sodium by filtering excess sodium. Some anecdotal reports also suggest potassium’s effect on lowering body temperature particularly in warmer weather. Many fruits high in potassium are also found in warmer climates such as yellow plantains, passion fruit and jack fruit. However research in this area is very limited.

May have an important role in thyroid health

Sodium is needed for thyroid health and low sodium can lead to hypothyroidism. People with hypothyroidism have also shown symptoms of edema have also shown to have low sodium.

This may also explain the anecdotal reports of people increasing body temperature through additional intake of sodium in the diet as a common symptom of hypothyroidism is having a sensitivity to cold.

Promotes brain health

Sodium is required for the balance of electrolytes and conduction of cellular fluids. Sodium helps remove excess acidity from the cells in the body, including the brain. Sodium is vital for the functions of cells which helps in conducting nerve signals and helping brain cells with communication and processing information. Any significant changes in sodium levels can affect brain health. Some sodium deficiency symptoms are confusion, fatigue and affecting concentration. For brain health to function adequate sodium is required.

A sodium potassium balance is important for proper electrolyte balance.

Agonist / Synergist

Vitamins: B1, B3, B5, B6, B12, C, D, E

Minerals: Ca, Co, Cu, Fe, K, Mg, P, Se, I, Cl- (Chloride)

Other: Glucose, Hydrogen

Sodium and potassium must be balanced for proper functions such as maintaining blood pressure and contributing to cardiac health. It also neutralize part of the dietary net acid load and improve bone mass by preventing acid related bone loss. [13]

Correct balance of sodium and potassium maintain bone health through excreting excess calcium from high sodium levels. [14]

Potassium intake excretes sodium through urine.

Sodium reduces potassium levels.

Sodium and iodine compounds react to create important compounds which are added to table salt. Sodium Iodide is the chemical compound formed from the reaction of the sodium and iodide which is a compound of iodine. Iodized salt is salt that has small amounts of potassium iodide or sodium iodide to prevent iodine deficiency.


Vitamins: A, B2, B3,

Minerals: Ca, K, Mg, Zn

Other: Keto diet

Retinoic acid which is a metabolite of vitamin A1 (Retinol) and sodium butyrate (a sodium salt of butyric acid (butyrate) has been shown to increase duration of cell culture growth [15]

High manganese which can reduce magnesium levels can cause excessive amounts of potassium and sodium to accumulate. [16] [17] [18]

High sodium excretes calcium. [20] [21]

High sodium increases the rate of bone resorption and accelerates bone turnover in postmenopausal women. [22] [23]

High sodium reduces bone density. [24]

Keto diet can reduce sodium as well as potassium. [25]

Iodine may exacberate an already existing sodium and potassium imbalance.

Food sources of Sodium

Processed foods such as cured meat contain the highest amounts of sodium as they require salt for processing. Processed foods also include, canned foods, pickled foods (olives in brine, sauerkraut, gherkins), cheese, bread, cereals, sauces and condiments (tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, mayonnaise). Foods served in restaurants and fast food takeaways also contain high amounts of sodium.

In addition to processed foods some vegetables contain amounts of sodium which includes, celery, celeriac, wax gourd, carrots, beets, artichokes, seaweed, beet greens, sweet potatoes, chard, spinach and collard greens.

Most salt found in conventional supermarkets contain additives and processed to remove other natural trace minerals which may not be healthy mostly due to toxic additives. Natural salts can be found in many health food stores which are likely to have some color or appearing off whitish unlike conventional salt that appear pure white. Sodium can often be confused for salt but it is important to note that it is not the same as salt. 1g of salt which is also known as sodium chloride (NaCl), provides 387.6 mg of sodium.

Different types of salt will have varying amounts of sodium and include:

  • Salt
  • Kosher salt
  • Iodized salt
  • Kala namak
  • Pink Himalayan salt
  • Celtic sea salt
  • Sea salt
  • Halite
  • Low sodium salt
  • Celery salt
  • Fleur de sel
  • Flake salt
  • Smoked salt
  • Pickling salt
  • Sel gris
  • Maldon salt
  • Alaea salt
  • Bamboo salt
  • Curing salt

Sodium is also found in baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) commonly used as a leavening agent for cakes, breads, pancakes and many other baked goods. It has a mild alkaline pH of 9. It has also been used as a remedy to balance excess acidity however over use can impair stomach acid needed for proper digestion.

Recommended Dietary Allowance


Sodium: Adequate Intake (AI) in milligrams (mg/d)


0-6 months

110 mg

7-12 months

370 mg

1-3 years

800 mg

4-8 years

1000 mg





Sodium: Adequate Intake (AI) in milligrams (mg/d)


9-13 years

1200 mg



14-18 years

1500 mg



19-30 years

1500 mg



31-50 years

1500 mg



51+ years

1500 mg












9-13 years

1200 mg



14-18 years

1500 mg

1500 mg

1500 mg

19-30 years

1500 mg

1500 mg

1500 mg

31-50 years

1500 mg

1500 mg

1500 mg

51+ years

1500 mg



The  2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating pattern for individuals ages 14 years and older. [26] [27] [28]

Sodium Supplementation

Sodium is available as sodium chloride and can be found in electrolyte balancing supplements in the form of tablets, capsules, powders. Sodium can be easily added in the diet by adding salt to food. 1g of salt provides 387.6 mg of sodium.

The best salts are natural unprocessed salt with minerals intact as most commercial salt such as table salt contains harmful additives. Sodium chloride in its purest form is cheaper and readily available be sure to purchase food grade sodium chloride without additives.

Most people tend to consume excessive amounts of sodium and supplementation will be unnecessary. Supplements may be necessary where electrolyte balance is reduced through excessive sweating, vomiting and diarrhea.

Restoring sodium through supplementation may be required when sweating excessively or having other health concerns such as heat stroke or adrenal insufficiency.


Sole is an electrolyte solution made from chunks of Himalayan Salt with purified, bottled or spring water. It is commonly used to replenish electrolytes which can help increase energy and maintain the body’s pH (acid / alkaline). It can also be used for improving athletic performance.

Sole is the substance produced when pure Himalayan Salt Chunks and good quality water are mixed together in a glass or ceramic jar for 24 hours. This action produces a naturally occurring and life-giving electrolyte called Sole.

To make take a clean container and pour in good quality water (spring, artesian or distilled), the simply add the chunks of salt allowing this to dissolve. Continue adding until the salt no longer dissolves. This means the water has reached its saturation level. Once the water is reduced through use you can add more water and pink salt accordingly to reach saturation level once again.

1 teaspoon of Sole can be taken in the morning on an empty stomach before breakfast. This can be taken daily however remember to drink enough water to remain hydrated.

In addition to sodium having adequate potassium levels is also important for balanced electrolytes.

Deficiency symptoms of Sodium

Most people consume adequate amounts of salt or even exceed the required amount and deficiency is quite rare. Hyponatremia is the clinical term for low sodium in blood serum. The following are signs and symptoms of a sodium deficiency:

  • Hyponatremia
  • Increased LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels
  • Increased insulin resistance
  • Low blood pressure (Hypotension)
  • Mental changes
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tiredness / fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle cramps
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Coma

Low sodium can increase the risk of death in individuals with Type II Diabetes. The following are some of the causes and health conditions linked to sodium deficiency:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Drinking excessive fluid (water / beverage)
  • Excessive sweating
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Cirrhosis
  • Diuretics
  • Low dietary sodium intake (although rare)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Adrenal insufficiency

There is an increased risk of stomach cancer from high sodium levels and high blood pressure. Individuals with kidney disease are also at risk and salt intake should be limited. In addition to this keeping a proper balance of sodium and potassium levels are also important as potassium is able to counteract the harmful effects of sodium.

Craving salty snacks can be an indicator for adrenal fatigue which can be caused by low sodium intake.

Toxicity symptoms of Sodium

High sodium in blood serum is known as hypernatremia.

Ingesting toxic high amounts of sodium can cause the following symptoms:

  • Gastrointestinal tract irritation
  • Vomiting
  • Respiratory distress
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Convulsions
  • Light-headed (feeling faint or passing out)
  • Swelling hands or feet
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle twitching
  • Confusion
  • Uneven heart rate
  • Extreme thirst
  • Increased or decreased urination
  • Leg discomfort
  • Thirst
  • Muscle weakness or limp feeling
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of calcium increasing risk for osteoporosis
  • Death

Many processed food contain high amounts of sodium and should be limited to avoid excessive amounts. [29]

Precautions and warnings

Medications that can interact with sodium chloride include lithium based drugs such as Lithium Carbonate ER, Lithobid, Eskalith, Lithonate, Eskalith-CR, Lithotabs. Tolvaptan (Samsca, Jynarque) medications can also interact with sodium chloride. [30] [31] [32]

It’s important to check with your doctor if you are taking any medications or have health conditions that may be affected by sodium chloride before increasing sodium in your diet.