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Known to most people in the form of table salt, sodium is one of the minerals that the body needs in relatively
In modern times, most Americans and other Westerners consume far too much of the mineral, and it is easy to see why. One obvious culprit is table salt, which has a high sodium content. The mineral is also found in many of America's favorite foods (or the chemicals used to preserve those foods). Sodium can be found in potato chips and a variety of other snacks, processed foods, meat, fish, butter and margarine, soft drinks, dairy products, canned vegetables, and bread, just to name a few sources. A single slice of pizza can supply the body with all the sodium it needs for one day (about 500 mg), while a teaspoon of table salt contains four times that amount.
A certain intake of sodium is considered essential to life. The mineral is a vital component of all bodily fluids, including blood and sweat. Often working in combination with other minerals such as potassium, sodium helps to manage the distribution and pH balance of these fluids inside the body and plays an important role in blood pressure regulation. Sodium is referred to as an electrolyte because it possesses a mild electrical charge when dissolved in bodily fluids. Due to this charge, sufficient amounts of the mineral are necessary for the normal functioning of nerve transmissions and muscle contractions. Sodium also helps the body to retain water and prevent dehydration, and may have some activity as an antibacterial.
The important benefits associated with sodium become apparent in cases of sodium deficiency, which is relatively uncommon. Sodium deficiency is most likely to occur in cases of starvation, diarrhea, intense sweating, or other conditions that cause rapid loss of water from the body. People who suffer from low sodium levels may experience a wide range of bothersome or serious health problems, including digestive disorders, muscle twitching or weakness, memory loss, fatigue, and lack of concentration or appetite. Arthritis may also develop. These problems usually occur when fluids that belong in the bloodstream take a wrong turn and enter cells.
Author Info: Greg Annussek, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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