Adding a few sprinkles of salt to our meals can bring out a more delicious flavor, but it’s all too easy to go overboard. Plus, most of our food already has plenty of sodium already packed into it. Although most of us know all of that can have a bad side effect on our blood pressure and heart health, a new study is claiming it can also take a toll on our immune system.
Researchers from the University Hospital Bonn in Germany shared their results after observing participants who consumed an extra 6 grams of salt each day on top of their usual sodium consumption. After a week, they showed significant increases in immune deficiency that made them more susceptible to bacterial infections.
The study cites the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation of 5 grams, or about a teaspoon, as the maximum daily amount of salt. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) actually cuts that suggested amount in half with no more than 2,300 milligrams (2.3 grams) a day — which most of us overdo on average with at least 3,400 milligrams (3.4 grams) of salt in our meals.
But reaching for our shakers isn’t even the biggest culprit. Instead, more than 70 percent of our salt intake comes from processed food and restaurant meals. “The majority of Americans’ daily sodium intake comes from grains and meat, and other top contributors include processed poultry, soups, and sandwiches,” the CDC claims. They list more specific examples that can quickly add up, like one slice of bread with 80 to 230 milligrams of sodium and breakfast cereals with 150 to 300 milligrams before adding milk. The researchers similarly compared their participants salt intake to eating two fast food meals, like hamburgers and fries, which we all know are heavy on sodium levels.
The study explains that our immunity is affected when the sodium gets filtered through our kidneys and causes hormones called glucocorticoids to build up and slow down the function of granulocytes, the most common type of immune cell in our blood. “We have now been able to prove for the first time that excessive salt intake also significantly weakens an important arm of the immune system,” co-author Dr. Christian Kurts explains.
You don’t have to give up salt altogether to avoid immunity issues, but it’s definitely worth taking a little extra consideration before choosing your next meal.