Salt May Affect Progression of Multiple Sclerosis


According to a recent study, people who suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS) may experience a progressive worsening of symptoms if they consume an excessive amount of salt. Dr. Mauricio Farez, a lead researcher at the Raul Carrea Institute for Neurological Research in Buenos Aires, recently published a new study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. The study proposes that the symptoms of MS become worse in sufferers who ingest large amounts of sodium, the active ingredient in table salt.

The human body needs sodium to function properly. Sodium helps to control blood volume, blood pressure, and aids the function of muscles and nerves. If consumed in excess, too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure in some individuals as well as potentially increase fluids to harmful levels in sufferers who also have cirrhosis, congestive heart failure or possibly kidney disease.

Excess salt consumption has been shown to worsen conditions such as asthma, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, type 1 diabetes, high blood pressure and other diseases by  other previously researched studies. The link between sodium and some of these health conditions has been shown by scientists who have demonstrated that excess salt causes the production of Th17 cells in the immune system to increase. It is this overproduction of Th17 cells that is connected to the aforementioned diseases.

Although this study found a relationship between sodium and MS, it did not demonstrate a cause and effect, only an association. Participants were split into three groups, each with sodium intake set at different level. One group consumed less than two grams every day, a second group between two and 4.8 grams, and the third group at a level above 4.8 grams. The group at the highest level of sodium intake had more episodes of MS symptoms that were worse than the other two groups.

According to Dr. Farez more research needs to be done. The study found a positive correlation between sodium intake and the progression of MS activity. The patients were followed for two years from 2010 to 2012. Other research reported in Nature, an international weekly journal of science, published in April 25, 2013, indicates sodium has acquired its lasting reputation as a controversial ingredient. More analysis is needed to test these findings.

Sodium is a major component in the daily consumption of everyday foods. The food industry has been scrutinized for adding this natural chemical to many foods. A book titled Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us  written by Michael Moss, elaborates in great detail how the food industry has used these three ingredients to sway consumers to purchase the packaged and processed foods on grocery store shelves. According to Moss, the ingredients mentioned in the title of his book became the basis for the success of packaged and processed foods, that they are feeding the epidemic of obesity in the United States.

Moss explains in his book that food manufacturers use scientific methods to examine components of the human palate and adjust proportions of fat, sugar and salt for optimum taste. This process has addicted consumers in a similar fashion to processed foods like the tobacco companies used nicotine to hook smokers. Most food companies are more concerned with satisfying their shareholders and reaching the bottom line of profit.Salt

The research done by Moss indicates the only possible route left is government regulation, according to an opinion expressed by an executive in the tobacco industry. Statements from various executives in the food industry suggest that food companies answer to Wall Street and are pressured to come up with solutions that satisfy the major owners of shares in their companies. It is further related in his book that a standout company in contrast is Kraft. They have attacked the issue and have altered recipes to minimize the three main ingredients of fat, sugar and salt. Most other companies refused to formulate a standard for the industry that contained more healthful products.

A new research study in The New England Journal of Medicine titled Global Sodium Consumption and Death from Cardiovascular Causes emphasizes excess consumption of salt can be attributed to 1.65 million deaths worldwide every year. According to the report there is proof the restriction of sodium lessens the rate of mortality due to cardiovascular disease. However, it has been shown too much of this mineral is consumed by populations worldwide. Salt is linked to more than 20 health problems, but it cannot be eliminated from human consumption. It plays an important role in survival. The cells in the human body need sodium to function properly. Sodium is eliminated by sweating and urinating, thus it needs to be replaced on a regular basis. The conundrum lies in ascertaining precisely how much salt to take in order to strike a proper balance.

Individuals process chemical compounds differently because of their genes, health, and age. A compelling fact from the study was that diets filled with potassium appeared to counter the effects of too much of this commonly used condiment. Foods with high potassium levels include beans, bananas, potatoes, and leafy greens. One suggested approach was that patients eat food rich with potassium to counter the effects of high sodium content foods, like those processed and packaged foods on grocery shelves from America to Australia. The findings of this recent study have indicated that salt may affect the progression of multiple sclerosis, but additional research is needed to explore this relationship further.

By Andy Towle

Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry
New England Journal of Medicine
Medical News Today
National MS Society
Sydney Morning Herald
NBC News

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