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Be Wary of the Salt Trend: What You Need To Know

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

I noticed a trend that’s taking storm – increasing your daily salt intake. The great Andrew Huberman is on the salt bandwagon as well! He consumes a half of a teaspoon of salt (1,200mg sodium) in the morning.

Huberman chugs salt in the morning in order to be optimally healthy.

Now, I do believe the anti-salt fad may have gone overboard in certain ways.

Salt is indeed an essential nutrient and electrolyte.

I find myself deficient in sodium/chloride when I am sweating a lot (from exercising, saunas, hot weather) and drink a lot of water – if I am not consciously consuming more salt.

I need to consciously consume more salt in these situations, or I find myself getting a minor headache from the salt deficiency.

Instead of chugging salt water, which, let’s face it, is disgusting, I eat olives and pickles.

Mainstream experts recommend limiting your daily intake to 1 teaspoon of salt (2,300-2,400 mg of sodium) [1, 2]. They also recognize increased sodium needs when sweating a lot.

In comparison, Americans eat on average about 3,400 mg of sodium per day.

With all that said, I think people need to take a more nuanced approach to salt.

Too much salt can also be dangerous.

Too Much Salt May Kill You

There’s an endless number of association studies showing harm to people who consume high salt diets, but these studies are confounded by the obvious factor that people who consume more salt also consume more junk food.

In the past 5 years, with the rise of genetic studies, we can better tease out causal impacts by various factors, which is what this section will be focused on.

Based on these studies (Mendelian Randomization), dietary salt can actually cause increased blood pressure in many people [3]. Again, this is not merely an association.

Blood pressure is one of the single most important risk factors for almost every chronic disease.

Elevated blood pressure has a causal effect (not simply an association) on many conditions, including but not limited to:

  • Cognitive Impairment [4]
  • Reduced Longevity [5]
  • Heart Disease (CAD, Atrial Fibrillation) [6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]
  • Stroke [13, 14]
  • Kidney Disease [15]
  • Type 2 Diabetes [16]
  • Kidney Cancer [17]
  • Migraine [18, 19]

Higher urinary sodium levels also seem to be involved in many conditions that are significant killers in the developed world:

  • Higher BMI [20]
  • Stroke [21]
  • Heart failure [21]
  • Type 2 diabetes [21]

Urinary sodium is increased by salt consumption, and seems to be a significant measure of salt intake by studies [22].

Therefore, if you are consuming “too much” salt, you are likely increasing your risk for these conditions.

With that said, there is great fluctuation in how much salt raises blood pressure, and this is heavily dependent on your genetic variants that you can check with SelfDecode – more on that later.

I think it’s starting to become clear why a nuanced approach is NECESSARY in the salt debate and everyone should think twice about following Andrew Huberman and chugging down salt in the morning.

In my experiments, I found that consuming more salt caused my inflammation levels to go up! After doing some digging, I found that salt can trigger Th17 cells [23], which is a significant culprit in people who have autoimmune diseases.

Keep in mind that I do believe in personalization and think that it could work wonders for some people!

So, how do you know what salt level is too much?

Pay Attention to Blood Sodium

This might seem like common sense, but I don’t see anyone recommending this.

A critical first step in knowing how much salt you should consume is simply to look at your labs!

Your blood sodium is affected by your dietary sodium [24].

You can order a blood sodium level test through SelfDecode Labs as part of our recommended General Health Panel and see exactly what your current sodium levels are (it’s found in the comprehensive metabolic panel no doctor’s referral required!)

I recommend taking all of your lab tests from as far back as you can and uploading them to SelfDecode. This will allow you to see your trends as well.

Typically, people will be somewhat consistent in their blood sodium and you can know if you are not consuming enough sodium or you’re consuming too much.

I make sure to pay attention to my blood levels of sodium through SelfDecode. In my case, you can see they are all over the place, because I’m always conducting different experiments on myself. (Side note, I see myself as a professional health ‘athlete’, and don’t recommend people conduct experiments on themselves like I do, if you are not a professional health optimizer.)

Sometimes they’ve been high, sometimes they are on the lower side, but typically in the optimal range.

Studies show that blood levels of sodium greater than 142 mmol/L are associated with a 39% increased risk of developing chronic diseases and >144 mmol/L with 21% elevated risk of premature death [3].

39% of chronic diseases is a massive number!

For this reason, our optimal range is set at 142, whereas typical labs like Quest will have 146 as the normal range, so you might think you are perfectly healthy at 146 with a 39% increased risk of chronic disease!

Note that blood sodium is also heavily influenced by water intake, so if your sodium is higher, then you also need to drink more water.

When people tell me they got their labs back and everything was great, I roll my eyes – imaginarily of course. I’d like to see what SelfDecode says when they upload them…

Check Your Genetics & Blood Pressure

If you have suboptimal blood pressure (higher than 75/115), then you should be wary of consuming more salt in your diet. On the other hand, if you have blood pressure that is too low, more salt might be beneficial.

A cheap blood pressure cuff can allow you to see how your blood pressure is throughout the day. Mine tends to fluctuate between 110-115/70-75, generally speaking.

I do have a genetic predisposition for high blood pressure, but my blood pressure is optimal because of all the health measures that I take. At one point I went to the doctor and my blood pressure was high!

If your blood pressure is high, I would follow the recommendations in the blood pressure report on SelfDecode.

The next step I would take is to look at your predisposition for salt sensitivity.

People who are salt sensitive will experience a bump in blood pressure when they eat salty foods. They may also experience [25, 26, 27]:

  • swelling (buildup of fluids)
  • excessive thirst
  • more frequent urination

In my case, my salt sensitivity is normal.

Take Away

The bottom line is that there are many factors that influence how much salt you should consume.

There are many benefits to salt, but also many risks and it’s important to be aware of them when deciding how much you should take.

If this whole topic is too complex for you to figure out yourself, I would highly recommend signing up for our coaching services and we will be looking at all these factors when determining what you should be doing.

About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen flipped the script on conventional and alternative medicine…and it worked. Growing up, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia, anxiety, and other issues that were poorly understood in traditional healthcare. Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a learning journey to decode his DNA and track his biomarkers in search of better health. Through this personalized approach, he discovered his genetic weaknesses and was able to optimize his health 10X better than he ever thought was possible. Based on his own health success, he went on to found SelfDecode, the world’s first direct-to-consumer DNA analyzer & precision health tool that utilizes AI-driven polygenic risk scoring to produce accurate insights and health recommendations. Today, SelfDecode has helped over 100,000 people understand how to get healthier using their DNA and labs.
Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, with a mission of empowering people to take advantage of the precision health revolution and uncover insights from their DNA and biomarkers so that we can all feel great all of the time.


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