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Sodium chloride is a necessary component of human health, and it is also known as common salt. It is meant to be consumed in minimal quantities and provides the body with electrolytes and helps muscles relax. When consumed in large amounts, it may result in unwanted health problems such as high blood pressure. Sodium chloride is found in abundance in many products, and many cultures consume what are considered to be dangerously high levels of it.
Most often, sodium chloride is found in the crystalline form known as table salt. Certain types of table salt may have slightly differing levels of sodium and chloride. Sea salt, for example, is usually lower in sodium. Processed foods, cured meats, jarred sauces and condiments, snack foods, and canned goods tend to be particularly high in salt.
A proper intake of sodium chloride has many health advantages. It is an essential component of all body fluids, including blood. As an electrolyte, salt is often found in fitness drinks. Electrolytes allow the transmission of electric signals between nerves. For this reason, salt aids in muscle relaxation. It additionally plays a role in nutrient uptake in cells.
While sodium and chloride are both essential to human health, rarely is there a problem of a shortage of either in an average person's diet. In extremely rare cases, however, too low an amount may cause muscle cramps. This may occur in very hot climates or after rigorous exercise.
Sodium chloride deficiency may be detected after experiencing persisting headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, muscle cramps, fainting, or a combination of the aforementioned. Another rare condition, known as hyponatremia, may cause the same symptoms. In extreme cases, seizures, comas, brain damage, and death may result. Hyponatremia results from sodium being flushed out of the body by extremely excessive fluid intake. Some athletes and marathon runners may be at risk of this very rare condition.
Before the advent of refrigeration, salt was necessary as a food preservative. Today, however, most cultures consume too much salt. People in the United Kingdom are particularly considered to be at risk of excess salt consumption due to the over-abundance of processed foods. It has been recommended that citizens of the United Kingdom reduce daily intake to about six grams of sodium chloride per day. This would average to about 2.5 grams of actual sodium per day.
An excess of salt in the diet may put a person at risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure. While hypertension is initially symptom-free, it may increase the chances of stroke and heart disease. Excess salt is readily absorbed into the body, though some is expelled through perspiration and urination. Infants and those who suffer from kidney disease are often advised not to have extra salt on their food, as it cannot be properly expelled through urine. A low-fat and high-potassium diet may help counteract high sodium levels, though this is not a substitute for the proper limitation of salt intake.