Limiting dietary salt not only helps to reduce the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease but also to counteract fatty liver, or hepatic steatosis, and the increase in inflammation levels in the entire body. Moreover, salt, when in excess, even favors the chronicisation of these conditions. This emerges from a recent scientific research published in the journal Circulation by a group of Chinese scientists (Gao et al, Circulation, 2022).
The dangers of salt
Too much salt is bad, this is a known fact. Salt, in fact, increases blood pressure, alters insulin resistance, excessively stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates heart activity and peripheral vasoconstriction. As a result, heart rhythm disturbances with arrhythmias and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease can occur. But salt also alters the intestinal microbiota. The liver receives most of its blood supply from the gut through the portal vein. This blood carries with it the by-products of intestinal bacteria, but also toxins and allergens that come from foods. Therefore, it is legitimate to hypothesize that a diet rich in salt, through the alteration of the intestinal microbiota, may also have an impact on the liver.
Excess salt increases the risk of fatty liver and inflammation, the study
Chinese scientists performed a laboratory study on a population of mice. One part of the mice received a high-salt diet for 2 months while the other part a normal diet. At the end of the study, it was observed that the mice that ate a high-salt diet developed fatty liver disease. Not only that, the levels of inflammation had also increased and the pro-inflammatory substances had also infiltrated the heart and aorta. This indicates that salt-induced fatty liver disease affects the whole body, including the heart, due to increased levels of inflammation. In addition to this, the researchers were able to observe that the excess of salt, taken for a long period of time and on a regular basis, altered the expression of a gene, called SIRT3, favoring, as a consequence, the chronicity of these conditions, namely fatty liver and inflammation.
Conclusions and some tips
The study shows how important it is to reduce salt intake. The guidelines indicate as a threshold value 5 grams of salt per day per person. Unfortunately, most of the world's population consumes more than 10 grams of salt per day, despite the abundance of strategies to reduce salt intake. As indicated by the authors of the research, avoiding excess salt in the diet is of vital importance in order to protect not only the heart, but also the liver and the entire organism and in order to counteract chronic diseases and inflammation. But we need to act now, and a little at a time. In fact, abruptly removing a large amount of salt that is consumed with the diet causes an increase in stress hormones. The body must therefore get used to it, slowly. Maybe you can start by trying to limit the foods you buy ready-made and are high in salt, such as soups or pastas, but also snacks and chips, then you can start replacing some of the salt used for seasoning with a blend of aromatic herbs. Good choices can then be those of not bringing salt to the table and remembering to rinse canned legumes well. Then it is possible to vary the type of salt, using other salts than table salt, such as whole sea salt, black salt, pink or red salt, which, being less processed and richer in minerals, have a lower quantity of sodium chloride, the real enemy. In any case, remember that it is always salt, even if it is of a different type, and that also in this case its intake should be limited.